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YASHKA 

MY LIFE AS PEASANT, EXILE 
AND SOLDIER 



BY 

MARIA BOTCHKAREVA 

Commander of the Russian 
Women's Battalion of Death 

AS SET DOWN BY 

ISSAC DON LEVINE 
/ 



»' ■* * ^ 



LONDON 

CONSTABLE AND COMPANY 

LIMITED 




First published igig 



Copyright, jgig, by 
Frederick A. Stokes Company 



All Rights Reserved 



CONTENTS 



CHAP. 

I 

II 

III 

IV 

V 

VI 

VII 

VIII 

IX 

X 

XI 

XII 

XIII 

XIV 

XV 

XVI 

XVII 

XVIII 

XIX 

XX 



PAGE 

My Childhood of Toil .... 1 

Marriage at Fifteen . . . . .13 

A Little Happiness ..... 25 
The Road to Exile ..... 43 
Escape from Exile ..... 57 
I Enlist by the Grace of the Tsar . . 69 

My First Experience of No Man's Land . 84 
Wounded and Paralysed . . . .101 

Eight Hours in German Hands . . . 121 

The Revolution at the Front . . .135 

I Organize the Battalion of Death . .151 

My Fight against Committee Rule . .169 

The Battalion at the Front . . .181 

Errand from Kerensky to Kornilov . . 206 
The Army becomes a Savage Mob . . 227 

The Triumph of Bolshevism . . . 247 

Facing Lenin and Trotzky . . . 260 

Caught in a Bolshevik Death-Trap . . 279 

Saved by a Miracle ..... 297 
I set out on a Mission .... 312 
V 



INTRODUCTION 

IN the early summer of 1917 the world was thrilled by 
a news item from Petrograd announcing the forma- 
tion by one Maria Botchkareva of a women's fighting 
unit under the name of " The Battalion of Death." 
With this announcement an obscure Russian peasant 
girl made her debut in the international hall of fame. 
From the depths of dark Russia Maria Botchkareva 
suddenly emerged into the limelight of modern publicity. 
Foreign correspondents sought her, photographers fol- 
lowed her, distinguished visitors paid their respects to 
her. All tried to interpret this arresting personality. 
The result was a riot of misinformation and misunder- 
standing. 

Of the numerous published tales about and interviews 
with Botchkareva that have come under my observation, 
there is hardly one which does not contain some false or 
misleading statement. This is partly due to the deplor- 
able fact that the foreign journalists who interpreted 
Russian men and affairs to the world during the momen- 
tous year of 1917 were, with very few exceptions, ignor- 
ant of the Russian language ; and partly to Botch- 
kareva's reluctance to take every adventurous stranger 
into her confidence. It was her cherished dream to 
have a complete record of her life incorporated in a 
book some day. This work is the realization of that 
dream. 

To a very considerable extent, therefore, the narrative 

vii 



viii INTRODUCTION 

here unfolded is of the nature of a confession. When in 
the United States in the summer of 1918, Botchkareva 
determined to prepare her autobiography. Had she 
been educated enough to be able to write a letter fluently, 
she would probably have written her own life-story in 
Russian and then had it translated into English. Being 
semi-illiterate, she found it necessary to secure the 
services of a writer commanding a knowledge of her 
native language, which is the only tongue she speaks. 
The procedure followed in the writing of this book 
was this : Botchkareva recited to me in Russian 
the story of her life, and I recorded it in English in 
longhand, making every effort to set down her narrative 
verbatim. Not infrequently I would interrupt her with 
a question intended to draw out some forgotten experi- 
ences. However, one of Botchkareva's natural gifts 
is an extraordinary memory. It took nearly a hundred 
hours, distributed over a period of three weeks, for her to 
tell me every detail of her romantic life. 

At our first session Botchkareva made it clear that 
what she was going to tell me would be very different 
from the stories about her related in the press. She 
would reveal her innermost self and break open for the 
first time the sealed book of her past. This she did, and 
in doing so completely discredited several widely circu- 
lated tales about her. Perhaps the chief of these is the 
statement that Botchkareva had enlisted as a soldier 
and gone to war to avenge her fallen husband. Whether 
this invention was the product of her own mind or was 
attributed to her originally by some prolific correspon- 
dent, I do not know. In any event it was a convenient 
answer to the eternal question of importunate journalists 
how she came to be a soldier. Unable to explain to the 
conventional world that profound impulse which really 
drove her to her remarkable destiny, she adopted this 



INTRODUCTION ix 

excuse until she had an opportunity to record the full 
story of her courageous life. 

This book will also remove that distrustful attitude 
based on misunderstanding that has been manifested 
toward Botchkareva in radical circles. When she 
arrived in the United States, she was immediately hailed 
as a " counter-revolutionary," royalist and sinister 
intriguer by the extremists. That was a grave injustice 
to her. She is ignorant of politics, contemptuous of 
intrigue, and spiritually far and above party strife. Her 
mission in life was to free Russia from the German yoke. 

Being placed virtually in the position of a father con- 
fessor, it was my privilege to commune with the spirit 
of this remarkable peasant-woman, a privilege I shall 
ever esteem as priceless. She not only laid bare before 
me every detail of her amazing life that memory could 
resurrect, but also allowed me to explore the nooks and 
corners of her heart to a degree that no friend of hers 
ever did. Maintaining a critical attitude from the 
beginning of our association, I was gradually over- 
whelmed by the largeness of her soul. 

Wherein does the greatness of Botchkareva lie ? 
Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst called her the greatest woman 
of the century. " The woman that saved France was 
Joan of Arc — a peasant girl," wrote a correspondent in 
July, 1917, " Maria Botchkareva is her modern parallel." 
Indeed, in the annals of history since the days of the 
Maid of Orleans we encounter no feminine figure equal 
to Botchkareva. Like Joan of Arc, this Russian peasant 
girl dedicated her life to her country's cause. If Botch- 
kareva failed — and this is yet problematical, for who will 
dare forecast the future of Russia — it would not lessen 
her greatness. Success in our materialistic age is no 
measure of true genius. 

Like Joan of Arc, Botchkareva is the symbol of her 



X INTRODUCTION 

country. Can there be a more striking incarnation of 
France than that conveyed by the image of Joan of Arc ? 
Botchkareva is an astounding typification of peasant 
Russia, with all her virtues and vices. Educated to 
the extent of being able to scribble her own name with 
difficulty, she is endowed with the genius of logic. 
Ignorant of history and literature, the natural lucidity 
of her mind is such as to lead her directly to the very few 
fundamental truths of life. Religious with all the 
fervour of her primitive soul, she is tolerant in a fashion 
befitting a philosopher. Devoted to her country with 
every fibre of her being, she is free from impassioned par- 
tisanship and selfish patriotism. Overflowing with good 
nature and kindness, she is yet capable of savage out- 
bursts and brutal acts. Credulous and trustful as a 
child, she can be easily incited against people and 
things. Intrepid and rash as a fighter, her desire to live 
on occasions was indescribably pathetic. In a word, 
Botchkareva embodies all those paradoxical character- 
istics of Russian nature that have made Russia a puzzle 
to the world. These traits are illustrated almost in 
every page of this book. Take away from Russia the 
veneer of western civilization and you behold her 
incarnation in Botchkareva. Know Botchkareva and 
you will know Russia, that inchoate, invincible, agonizqd, 
striving, rising colossus in all its depth and breadth. 
It must be made unmistakably clear here that the 
motives responsible for this book were purely personal. 
In its origin this work is exclusively a human document, a 
record of an exuberant life. It was the purpose of Botch- 
kareva and the writer to keep the narrative down to a 
strict recital of facts. It is really incidental that this 
record is valuable not only as a biography of a startling 
personality, but as a revelation of certain phases of a 
momentous period in human history ; not only as a 



INTRODUCTION xi 

human dociunent, but as an historical document as well. 
Because Botchkareva always has been and still is 
strictly non-partisan and because she does not pretend 
to pass judgment upon events and men, her revelations 
are of prime importance. The reader gets a picture of 
Kerensky in action that completely effaces all that has 
hitherto been said of this tragic but typical product j)f 
the Russian intelligentsia. Kornilov, Rodzianko, Lenin 
and Trotzky and some other outstanding personalities of 
the Russian revolution appear in these pages exactly as 
they are in reality. 

Not a single book, as far as I know, has appeared yet 
giving an account of how the Russian army at the 
front reacted to the Revolution. What was the state of 
mind of the Russian soldier in the trenches, which was 
after all the decisive factor in the developments that 
followed, during the first eight months of 1917 ? No 
history of unshackled Russia will be complete without 
an answer to this vital question. This book is the first 
to disclose the reactions and emotions of the vast Russian 
army at the front to the tremendous issues of the revolu- 
tion, and is of especial value coming from a veteran 
peasant soldier of the rank and file. 

Perhaps surpassing all else in interest is the horrible 
picture we get of Bolshevism in action. With the 
claims of theoretical Bolshevism to establish an order of 
social equality on earth Botchkareva has no quarrel. 
She said so to Lenin and Trotzky personally. But then 
come her experiences with Bolshevism in practice, and 
there follows a blood-freezing narrative of the rule of 
mobocracy that will live forever in the memory of the 
reader. 

Botchkareva left the United States towards the end of 
July, 1918, after having attained the purpose of her 
visit — an interview with President Wilson. She went 



xii INTRODUCTION 

to England and thence to Archangel, where she arrived 
early in September. According to a newspaper despatch 
she caused the following proclamation to be posted in 
village squares and country churches : 

" I am a Russian peasant and soldier. At the request 
of the soldiers and peasants I went to America and 
Great Britain to ask these countries for military help for 
Russia. 

"The Allies understand our own misfortunes and I 
return with the Allied armies, which have come only for 
the purpose of helping to drive out our deadly enemies, 
the Germans, and not to interfere with our internal 
affairs. After the war is over the Allied troops will^ 
leave Russian soil. ' 

" I, for my own part, request all loyal free sons of 
Russia, without reference to party, to come together 
acting as one with the Allied forces, who, under the 
Russian flag, come to free Russia from the German 
yoke and to help the new free Russian army with all 
forces, including Russia, to beat the enemy. 

" Soldiers and peasants ! Remember that only a full, 
clean sweep of the Germans from our soil can give you 
the free Russia you long for." 

Isaac Don Levixk 



YASHKA 

Part One 

YOUTH 

CHAPTER I 

MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 

MY father, Leonti Semenovitch Frolkov, was born 
into serfdom at Nikolsko, a village in the pro- 
vince of Novgorod, some two hundred miles north 
of Moscow. He was fifteen when Alexander II emanci- 
pated the serfs in 1861, and remembers that historic 
event vividly, being fond even now of telling of the days 
of his boyhood. Impressed into the army in the early 
seventies, he served during the Russo-Turkish War of 
1877-78, and distyiguished himself for bravery, receiving 
several medals. When a soldier he learned to read 
and write, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. 

Returning home at the end of the war, he passed 
through Tcharanda, a fishermen's settlement on the 
shore of a lake, in the county of Kirilov, within thirty 
miles of Nikolsko. No longer dressed as a moujik, 
military in gait and bearing, with coins jingling in his 
pocket, he cut quite a figure in the poor hamlet of Tcha- 
randa. There he met my mother, Olga, the eldest 
daughter of Elizar Nazarev, perhaps the most destitute 
' inhabitant of the place. 

Elizar, with his wife and three daughters, occupied 
a shabby hut on the sandy shore of the lake. So poor 

1 B 



2 YASHKA 

was he that he could not afford to buy a horse to carry 
his catch to the city, and was compelled to sell it, far 
below the market price, to a travelling buyer. The 
income thus derived was not sufficient to keep the family 
from hunger. Bread was always a luxury in the little 
cabin. The soil was not tillable. Elizar's wife would 
hire herself to the more prosperous peasants in the 
vicinity for ten kopeks (about 2i<Z.) a day to labour 
from sunrise to sunset. But even this additional money 
was not always to be had. Then Olga would be sent 
out to beg for bread in the neighbouring villages. 

Once, when scarcely ten years old, little Olga under- 
went a harrowing experience, which she could never 
later recall without horror. Starting home with a 
basketful of bread, collected from several villages, she' 
was fatigued but happy at the success of her errand, and] 
hurried as fast as she could. Her path lay through a'^ 
forest. Suddenly she heard the howling of a pack of 
wolves. Olga's heart almost stopped beating. The 
dreadful sounds drew nearer. Overcome by fright, she 
fell unconscious to the ground. 

When she regained her senses, she found herself 
alone. The wolves apparently had sniffed her pros 
trate body and gone their way. Her basket of bread 
was scattered in all directions, trampled in the mud. 
Out of breath, and without her precious burden, she 
arrived home. 

It was in such circumstances that my mother grew 
to be nineteen, when she attracted the attention of 
Leonti Frolkov, who was then stopping in Tcharanda 
on his way home from the war. She was immensely 
flattered when he courted her. He even bought her s 
pair of shoes for a present, the first shoes she had ever 
worn. This captivated the humble Olga completely. 
She joyously accepted his marriage proposal. 



MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 3 

After the wedding the young couple moved to Nikol- 
sko, my father's birthplace, where he had inherited a 
small tract of land. They tilled it together, and with 
great difficulty managed to make ends meet. My two 
elder sisters, Arina and Shura, were born here, increasing 
the poverty of my parents. My father, about this 
time, took to drinking, and began to maltreat and beat 
his wife. He was by nature morose and egotistical. 
Want was now making him cruel. My mother's life 
with him became one of misery. She was constantly 
in tears, always pleading for mercy and praying to God. 

I was born in July, 1889, the third girl in the family. 
At that time many railroads were being built throughout 
the country. When I was a year old, my father, who 
had once been stationed at Tsarskoye Selo, the Tsar's 
place of residence near the capital, decided to go to 
Petrograd to seek work. We were left without money. 
He wrote no letters. On the brink of starvation, my 
mother somehow contrived, with the aid of kind neigh- 
bours, to keep herself and her children alive. 

When I was nearly six years old a letter came from 
my father, the first he had written during the five years 
of his absence. He had broken his right leg and, as 
soon as he was able to travel, had started home. My 
mother wept bitterly at the news, but was glad to hear 
from her husband whom she had almost given up for 
dead. In spite of his cruelty toward her, she still loved 
him. I remember how happy my mother was when my 
father arrived, but this happiness did not last long. 
Poverty and misery cut it short. My father's harsh 
nature asserted itself again. Hardly had a year gone 
by when a fourth child, also a girl, arrived in our family. 
And there was no bread in the house. 

From all parts of our section of the country peasants 
were migrating that year to Siberia, where the Govern- 



4 YASHKA 

ment allowed them large grants of land. My father 
wanted to go, but my mother was opposed to it. How- 
ever, when our neighbour, Verevkin, who had left 
sometime before for Siberia, wrote glowingly of the 
new country, my father made up his mind to go, too. 

Most of the men would go alone, obtain grants of 
land, till them, build homesteads, and then return for. 
their families. Those of the peasants who took their 
families with them had enough money to tide them over. 
But we were so poor that by the time we got to Tchelia- 
binsk, the last station in European Russia, and the 
Government distribution point, we had not a penny 
left. At the station my father obtained some hot 
water to make tea, while my two elder sisters were sent 
to beg for bread. 

We were assigned to Kuskovo, eighty miles beyond 
Tomsk. At every station my sisters would beg food, 
while father filled our tea-kettle with hot water. Thus 
we got along till Tomsk was reached. Our grant of land 
was in the midst of the taiga, the virgin Siberian forest. 
There could be no thought of immediately settling on 
it, so my father remained in Tomsk, while the rest 
of us were sent on to Kuskovo. My sisters went to 
work for board and clothing. My mother, still strong 
and in good health, baked bread for a living, while I 
took care of the baby. 

One day my mother was expecting visitors. She 
had baked some cakes and bought a pint of vodka, 
which she put on the shelf. While she was at work I 
tried to lull the baby to sleep. But baby was restless, 
crying incessantly. I did not know how to calm her. 
Then my eyes fell on the bottle of vodka. 

" It must be a very good thing," I thought, and 
decided to give a glass to baby. Before doing so I 
tasted it myself. It was bitter, but I somehow wanted 



MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 5 

more. I drank the first cup and, the bitterness having 
somewhat worn off, I drained another. In this manner 
I disposed of the entire bottle. Drowsy and weak, I 
took the baby into my arms and tried to rock it to 
sleep. But I myself began to stagger, and fell with the 
child to the floor. 

Our mother found us there, screaming at the top of 
our voices. Presently the visitors arrived, and my 
mother reached for the bottle, only to discover that it 
had been emptied. It did not take her long to find the 
culprit. I shall always remember the whipping I got 
on that occasion. 

Toward winter my father arrived from Tomsk. He 
brought little money with him. The winter was severe, 
and epidemics were raging in the country. We fell ill 
one by one, father, mother, then all the girls. As there 
was no bread in the house, and no money to buy any- 
thing, the community took care of us till the spring, 
housing and feeding us. By some miracle all of us 
escaped death, but our clothes had become rags. Our 
shoes fell to pieces. My parents decided to move to 
Tomsk, where we arrived barefoot and tattered, finding 
shelter at a poor inn on the outskirts of the town. 

My father would work only a couple of days a week. 
He was lazy. The remainder of the week he idled away 
and drank. My sisters served as nurse-maids, while my 
mother worked in a bakery, keeping the baby and me 
with her. We slept in the loft of a stable, with the 
horses stamping below us. Our bed was of straw laid 
on the floor, which consisted of unshaven planks thrown 
across logs. Soon the baker's wife began to object to 
feeding an extra mouth, which belonged to me. I was 
then over eight years old. 

" Why don't you send her to work ? She can eanx 
her own bread," she argued^ 



6 YASIIKA 

My mother would draw me to her breast, weep and 
beg for mercy. But the proprietress became impatient, 
threatening to throw us all out. 

Finally my father came to see us, with the good tidings 
that he had found a place for me. I was to care for a 
five-year-old boy, in return for my board and eighty- 
five kopeks a month. 

" If you do well," my father added, " you will by 
and by receive a rouble." 

Such was the beginning of my career in life. I was 
eight and a half years old, small and very thin. I had 
never before left my mother's side, and both of us wept 
bitterly at parting. It was a grey, painful, incompre- 
hensible world into which I was being led by my father. 
My view of it was further blurred by a stream of tears. 

I took care of the little boy for several days. One 
afternoon, while amusing him by making figures in the 
sand, I myself became so engrossed in the game that I 
quarrelled with my charge, which led to a fight. I 
remember feeling keenly that I was in the right. But 
the child's mother did not inquire into the matter. 
She heard his screams and whipped me for it. 

I was deeply hurt by the undeserved whipping 
administered by a strange woman. 

" Where was my mother ? Why did not she come 
to avenge me ? " 

My mother did not answer my cries. Nobody did. 
I felt miserable. How wrong was the world, how unjust. 
It was not worth while living in such a world. 

My feet were bare. My dress was all in rags. No- 
body seemed to care for me. I was all alone, without 
friends, and nobody knew of the yearning in my heart. 
I would drown myself, I thought. Yes, I would run 
to the river and drown myself. Then I would go up, 
free of all pain, into the arms of God, 



MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 7 

I resolved to slip out at the first chance and jump into 
the river, but before the opportunity presented itself 
my father called. He found me in tears. 

'* What's the matter, Manka ? " he asked. 

" I am going to drown myself, papa," I answered 
sadly. 

" Great Heavens ! What's happened, you foolish 
child ? " 

I then poured out my heart to him, begging to be 
taken to my mother. He caressed me and talked of my 
mother's distress if I left my place. He promised to 
buy me a pair of shoes, and I remained. 

But I did not stay long. The little boy, having seen 
his mother punish me, began to take advantage of me, 
making my life quite unbearable. Finally I ran away 
and wandered about town till dark, looking for my 
mother. It was late when a policeman picked me up 
crying in the street and carried me to the police-station. 
The officer in charge of the station took me to his home 
for the night. 

His house was rather large. I had never been in 
such a house before. When I awoke in the morning it 
seemed to me that there were a great many doors in it 
and all of them aroused my curiosity. I wanted to 
know what was behind them. As I opened one of the 
doors, I beheld the police-officer asleep on a bed, with 
a pistol by his side. I wanted to beat a hasty retreat, 
but he awoke. He seized the pistol and, still dazed 
from sleep, threatened me with it. Frightened, I ran 
out of the room. 

My leather, meanwhile, had been informed of my flight 
and had gone to the police-station in search of me. He 
was referred to the police-officer's home. There he 
found me, weeping in the porch, and took me to my 
mother. 



8 YASHKA 

My parents then decided to establish a home. All 
their capital amounted to six roubles (about 12s. Sd.). 
They rented a basement for three roubles a month. 
Two roubles my father invested in some second-hand 
furniture, consisting of a lame table and benches, 
and a few kitchen utensils. With a few kopeks from 
the last rouble in her purse my mother prepared some 
food for us. She sent me to buy a kopek's worth of 
salt. 

The grocer's shop of the street was owned by a Jewess, 
named Nastasia Leontievna Fuchsman. She looked at 
me closely when I entered her shop, recognizing that I 
was a stranger in the street, and asked me : 

" Whose are you ? " 

" I am of the Frolkovs. We have just moved into | 
the basement in the next block." ^ 

" I need a little girl to help me. Would you like to 
work for me ? " she asked. "I'll give you a rouble a 
month, and board." 

I was overjoyed and started for home at such speed 
that by the time I got to my mother 1 was quite breath- 
less. I told her of the offer from the grocery- woman. 

" But," I added, " she is a Jewess." 

I had heard so many things of Jews that I was rather 
afraid, on second thoughts, to live under the same roof 
with a Jewess. My mother calmed my fears on that 
score and went to the grocer's shop to have a talk with 
the proprietress. She came back satisfied, and I entered 
upon my apprenticeship to Nastasia Leontievna. 

It was not an easy life. I learned to wait on customers, 
to rim errands, to do everything in the house, from cook- 
ing and sewing to scrubbing floors. All day I slaved 
without ceasing, and at night I slept on a box in the 
passage-way between the shop and the house. My 
monthly earnings went to my mother, but they never 



MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 9 

sufficed to drive the spectre of starvation away from 
my home. My father earned little but drank much, 
and his temper became more and more harsh. 

In time my wages were raised to two roubles a month. 
But as I grew I required more clothes, which my mother 
had to supply me from my earnings. Nastasia Leon- 
tievna was exacting and not infrequently punished 
me. But she also loved me as though I had been her 
own daughter, and always tried to make up for harsh 
treatment. I owe a great deal to her, as she taught me 
to do almost everything, both in her business and in 
housework. 

I must have been about eleven when, in a fit of temper, 
I quarrelled with Nastasia Leontievna. Her brother 
frequented the theatre and constantly talked of it. I 
never quite understood what a theatre was like, but 
it attracted me, and I resolved one evening to get ac- 
quainted with that place of wonders. I asked Nastasia 
Leontievna for money to go there. She refused. 

" You little moujitchka,^ what do you want with the 
theatre ? " she asked derisively. 

" You d d Jewess ! " I retorted fiercely, and 

ran out of the shop. I went to my mother and told 
her of the incident. She was horrified. 

" But now she won't take you back. What shall we 
do without your wages, Marusia ? How shall we pay 
the rent ? We shall have to go begging again." And 
she began to cry. 

After some time my employer came after me, rebuking 
me for my quick temper. 

" How could I have known that you were so anxious 
to go to the theatre?" she asked. "All right, I'll 
give you fifteen kopeks every Sunday so that you can 
go." 

1 A peasant woman. 



10 YASHKA 

I became a regular Sunday occupant of the gallery, 
watching with intense interest the players, their strange 
gestures and manners of speech. 

Five years I worked for Nastasia Leontievna, assum- 
ing more important duties as I grew older. Early in 
the morning I would rise, open the shutters, knead the 
dough, and sweep or scrub the floors. I finally grew 
weary of this daily grind and began to think of finding 
other work. But my mother was ill and my father 
worked less and less, drinking most of the time. He 
grew more brutal, beating us all unmercifully. My 
sisters were forced to stay away from home. Shura 
married at sixteen, and I, fourteen years old, became the 
mainstay of the family. It was often necessary to get 
my pay in advance in order to keep the family from 
starving. 

The temptation to steal came to me suddenly one day. 
I had never stolen anything before, and Nastasia Leon- 
tievna repeatedly pointed out this virtue in me to her 
friends. 

" Here is a moujitchka who doesn't steal," she would 
say. But one day, on unpacking a barrel of sugar 
delivered at the shop, I found seven sugar-loaves instead 
of the usual six. The impulse to take the extra loaf of 
sugar was irresistible. At night I smuggled it stealthily 
out of the shop and took it home. My father was 
dismayed. 

" \Yhat have you done, Marusia ? Take it back 
immediately," he ordered. I began to cry and said 
that the sugar was not really Nastasia Leontievna's, 
that the error had been made at the refinery. Then 
my father consented to keep it. 

I returned to the shop and went to bed, but my eyes 
would not close ; my conscience troubled me. " What 
if she suspects that a loaf of sugar was missing ? What 



MY CHILDHOOD OF TOIL 11 

if she discovers that I have stolen it ? " And a feeling 
of shame came over me. The following day I could not 
look straight into Nastasia Leontievna's eyes. I felt 
guilty. My face burned. At every motion of hers my 
heart quivered in anticipation of the terrible disclosure. 
Finally she noticed that there was something the matter 
with me. 

" What's wrong with you, Marusia ? " she questioned, 
drawing me close to her. " Are you not well ? " 

This hurt even more. The burden of the sin I had 
committed weighed heavier and heavier. It rapidly 
became unbearable. My conscience would not be 
quieted. At the end of a couple of restless days and 
sleepless nights I decided to confess. I went into Nasta- 
sia Leontievna's bedroom when she was asleep. Rushing 
to her bed, I fell on my knees and broke into sobs. 
She awoke in alarm. 

" What's happened, child ? What is it ? " 

Weeping, I told the story of my theft, begging for- 
giveness and promising never to steal again. Nastasia 
Leontievna calmed me and sent me back to bed, but 
she could not forgive my parents. Next morning she 
visited our home, remonstrating with my father for 
his failure to return the sugar and punish me. The 
shame and humiliation of my parents knew no bounds. 

Sundays I spent at home, helping my mother in the 
house. I would go to the well, which was a considerable 
distance away, for water. My niother baked bread all 
the week and my father carried it to the market, selling 
it at ten kopeks a loaf. His temper w^as steadily getting 
' worse, and it was not unusual for me to find my mother in 
the yard in tears after my father had come home drunk. 

I was now fifteen and began to grow dissatisfied with 
my lot. Life was stirring within me and quickening 
my imagination. Everything that passed by and be- 



12 YASHKA 

yond the narrow little world in which I lived and 
laboured called me, beckoned to me, lured me. The 
impressions of that unfamiliar world which I had caught 
in the theatre had taken deep root in my soul and had 
kindled in me new ardours and desires. I wanted to 
dress nicely, to go out, to enjoy life's pleasures. I wanted 
to be educated. I wanted to have enough money to 
secure my parents for ever from starvation and to be 
able to lead for a time, for a day even, an idle life, 
without having to rise with the sun, to scruT) the floor 
or to wash clothes. 

Ah ! what would I not have given to taste the sweet- 
ness, the joy, that life held. But there seemed to be 
none for me. All day long I slaved in the little shop 
and kitchen. I never had a spare rouble. Something 
revolted within me against this bleak, purposeless, 
futureless existence. 



CHAPTER II 

MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 

THEN came the Russo-Japanese War. And with 
it, Siberia, from Tomsk to Manchuria, teemed 
with a new life. It reached even our street, hitherto 
so lifeless and uneventful. Two officers, the brothers 
Lazov, one of them married, rented the quarters oppo- 
site Nastasia Leontievna's shop. The young Madame 
Lazov knew nothing of housekeeping. She observed 
me at work in the shop, and offered me work in her 
home at seven roubles a month. 

Seven roubles a month was so attractive a sum that 
I immediately accepted the offer. What could not one 
do with so much money ? Why, that would leave four 
roubles for me, after the payment of my mother's rent. 
Four roubles ! Enough to buy a new dress, a coat, or 
a pair of fashionable shoes. Besides, it gave me an 
opportunity to release myself from the bondage of 
Nastasia Leontievna. 

I took entire charge of the housekeeping at the 
Lazovs. They were kind and courteous, and took an 
interest in me. They taught me how to behave at table 
and in society, and took care that I appeared neat and 
clean. 

The younger Lazov, Lieutenant Vasili, began to 
notice me, and one evening invited me to take a walk 
with him. In time Vasili's interest in me deepened. 

13 



14 YASHKA 

We went out together many times. He made love to 
me, caressing and kissing me. Did I realize clearly 
the meaning of it all ? Hardly. It was all so new, so 
wonderful, so attractive. It made my pulse throb at his 
approach. It made my cheeks flame with the heat of 
my young blood. 

Vasili said he loved me. Did I love him ? If I 
did, it was more because of the marvellous Avorld into 
which he was to lead me, than on account of himself. 
He promised to marry me. Did I particularly want 
to marry him ? Scarcely. The prosj^ect of mamage 
was more enticing to me because of the end it would 
put to my life of drudgery and misery than on account 
of anything else. To become free, indciDcndent, pos- 
sessed of means, was the attractive prospect that 
marriage held for me. 

I was fifteen and a half when Vasili seduced me by 
the promise of marriage. We lived together for a short 
while, when orders came to the Lazovs to leave for a 
different post. Vasili informed me of the ordfer. 

" Then we shall have to get married quickly, before 
you go," I declared. But Vasili did not think so. 

" That's quite impossible, Marusia," he said. 

" Why ? " I inquired sharply, something rising in 
my throat, like a tide, with suffocating force. 

" Because I am an officer, and you are only a plain 
nioujitchka. You understand, yourself, that at present 
we can't marry. Marusenka, I love you just as much 
as ever. Come, I'll take you home with me ; you'll 
stay with my parents. I'll give you an education, 
then we will get married." 

I became hysterical, and throwing myself at him 
like a ferocious animal, I screamed at the top of my 
voice : 

*' You villain. You deceived me. You never did 



MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 15 

love me. You are a scoundrel. May God curse you." 

Vasili tried to calm me. He tried to approach me, 
but I repulsed him. He cried, he begged, he implored 
me to believe that he loved me, and that he would 
marry me. But I would not listen to him. I trembled 
with rage, seized by a fit of uncontrollable temper. 
He left me in tears. 

I did not see Vasili for two days. Neither did his 
brother nor sister-in-law. He had disappeared. When 
he returned, he presented a pitiable sight. His haggard 
face, the appearance of his clothes, and the odour of 
vodka told the story of his two-days' debauch. 

" Ah, Marusia, Marusia," he lamented, gripping my 
arms. " What have you done, what have you done ? 
I loved you so much. And you would not under- 
stand me. You have ruined my life and your own." 

My heart was wrung with pity for Vasili. Life to 
me then was a labyrinth of blind alleys, tangled, be- 
wildering. It is now clear to me that Vasili did love 
me genuinely, and that he had indulged in the wild 
orgy to forget himself and drown the pain I had caused 
him. But I did not understand it then. Had I loved 
him truly, it might all have been different. But a 
single thought dominated my mind. " He had promised 
to marry me and failed." Marriage had become to 
me the symbol of a life of independence and freedom. 

The Lazovs left. They gave me money and gifts. 
But my heart was like a deserted ruin in the winter, 
echoing with the howls of wild beasts. Instead of a 
life of freedom, my parents' basement awaited me. 
And deep in my bosom lurked a dread of the un- 
known. . . . 

I returned home. My sisters had already noticed 
a different air about me. Perhaps they had seen me 
with Vasili at one time or another. Whatever the cause. 



16 YASHKA 

they had their suspicions, and did not fail to communi- 
cate them to my mothef . It required little scrutiny for 
her to observe that from a shy little girl I had blossomed 
forth into a young woman. And then there began days 
and nights of torture for me. 

My father quickly got wind of what had happened 
at the Lazovs. He was merciless and threw himself 
upon me with a whip, nearly lashing me to death, 
accompanying each blow with epithets that burned into 
me more than the lashes of the whip. He also beat 
my mother when she attempted to intervene on my 
behalf. 

My father would come home drunk almost every day, 
and immediately take to lashing me. Often he would 
drive me and my mother barefoot out of the house, and 
sometimes we shivered for hours in the snow, hugging 
the icy walls. 

Life became an actual inferno. Day and night I 
prayed to God that I might fall iU and die. But God 
remained deaf. And still I felt that only illness could 
save me from the daily punishment. "I must get ill," 
I said to myself. And so I lay on the oven at night to 
heat my body, and then went out and rolled in the snow. 
I did it several times, but without avail. I could not 
fall ill. 

Amid these insufferable conditions, I met the new year 
of 1905. My married sister had invited me to take part 
in a masquerade. My father would not hear, at first, 
of my going out for an evening, but consented after 
repeated entreaties. I dressed as a boy, this being the 
first time I ever wore^a hian's clothes. After the dancing 
we visited some friends of my sister's, where I met a 
soldier, just returned from the front. He was a common 
moujik, of rough appearance and vulgar speech, and 
at least ten years older than myself. He immediately 



MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 17 

began to court me. His name was Afanasi Botch- 
karev. 

It was not long afterwards that I met Botchkarev 
again in the house of a married sister of his. He invited 
me to go out for a walk, and then suddenly proposed that 
I should marry him. It came to me so unexpectedly 
that I had no time for consideration. Anything seemed 
preferable to the daily torments of home . If I had sought 
death to escape my father, why not marry this boorish 
moujik ? And I consented without further thought. 

My father objected to my marrying since I was not 
yet sixteen, but without avail. As Botchkarev was 
penniless, and I had no money, we decided to work 
together and save. Our marriage was a hasty affair. 
The only impression of it that remains ^ith me is my 
feeling of relief at escaping from my father's brutal 
hands. Alas ! Little did I then suspect that I was 
exchanging one form of torture for another. 

On the day following our marriage, which took place 
in the early spring, Afanasi and I went down to the river 
to hire ourselves as day labourers. We helped to load 
and unload lumber barges. Hard work never daunted 
me, and I would have been satisfied, had it only been 
possible for me to get along with Afanasi otherwise. But 
he also drank, while I did not, and intoxication invari- 
ably brutalized him. He knew of my affair with Lazov, 
and would use it as a pretext for punishing me. 

" That officer is still in your head," he would shout. 
" Wait, I'll knock him out of it." And he would 
proceed to do so. 

Summer came. Afanasi and I found work with an 
asphalte business. We made floors at the prison, uni- 
versity and other public buildings. We paved some 
streets with asphalte. Our work with the firm lasted 
about two years. Both of us started at seventy kopeks 

o 



18 YASHKA 

(about Is. 5|d.) a day, but I rose to the position of 
assistant foreman in a few months, receiving a rouble 
and fifty kopeks (about 8s. 2d.) a day. Afanasi con- 
tinued as a common labourer. My duties required 
considerable knowledge in the mixing of the various 
elements in the making of concrete and asphalte. 

Afanasi's low intelligence was a sufficient trial, 
liut his heavy drinking was a greater source of suffering 
to nie. He made a habit of beating me, and grew to 
be unendurable. I was less than eighteen years old, 
and nothing but misery seemed to be in store for me. 
The thought of escape dug itself deeper and deeper into 
my mind. I finally resolved to run away from Afanasi. 

My married sister had moved to Barnaul, where she 
and her husband worked as servants on a river steamer. 
I saved some twenty roubles, and determined to go to 
my sister, but I needed a passport. Without a passport 
one could net move in Russia, so I took my mother's. 

On tlic way, at a small railway station, I was held up 
by a police officer. 

" Where are you going, girl ? " he asked brusquely, 
eyeing me with suspicion. 

" To Barnaul," I replied, with a sinking heart. 

"Have you a passport?" he demanded. 

" Yes," I said, drawing it out of my bag. 

" What's your name ? " was the next question. 

"Maria Botchkareva." 

In my confusion I had forgotten that the passport 
was my mother's, and that it bore the name of Olga 
Frolkova. When the officer unfolded it and glanced 
at the name, he turned on me fiercely : 

" Botchkareva, ah, so that is your name ? " 

It dawned upon me then that I had committed 4 
fatal mistake. Visions of prison, torture and eventual 
return to Afanasi flashed before me. " I am lost," 



MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 19 

thought, falHng upon my knees before the officer to 
beg for mercy, as he ordered me to follow him to head- 
quarters. In an outburst of tears and sobs, I told him 
that I had escaped from a brutal husband, and since I 
(^ould not possibly obtain a passport of my own, I was 
forced to make use of my mother's. I implored him not 
to send me back to Afanasi, for he would certainly kill 
me. 

My simple peasant speech convinced the officer that I 
was not a dangerous political, but he would not let me 
go. He decided that I should go with him. " Come 
along, you will stay with me, and to-morrow I will 
send you to Barnaul. If you don't, I'll have you 
arrested and sent by etape ^ back to Tomsk." 

I was as docile as a sheep. This was my first contact 
with the authorities, and I dared not protest. If I 
had any power of will it must have been dormant. 
Had I not found the world full of wrong since my child- 
hood ? Was not this one of the ordinary events of 
life ? We moujiks were cieated to suffer and endure. 
They, the officials, were created to punish and maltreat. 
And so I was led away by the guardian of peace and law, 
and made to suffer shame and humiliation. . . . 

I was then free to go to Barnaul, and I resumed my 
journey. When I arrived there, my sister quickly 
found employment for me on the steamship. The work 
was comparatively easy, and my life rapidly took a 
happier turn. It was an immense relief to be away 
from my drunken, brutal husband. 

But the relief was short-lived. Afanasi came to my 
mother after my disappearance to inquire concerning 
my whereabouts. She showed surprise upon hearing 
of my flight, and denied all knowledge of my destina- 
tion. He returned to our house again and again. One 
^ Under convoy from prison to prison. 



20 YASHKA 

day ill his presence the postman delivered a letter 
from Shura. He seized it, and through it learned that 
I was in Barnaul. 

One morning, as I was standing on the deck of the 
ship, which was anchored in the harbour, my eyes 
suddenly fell on a figure approaching the wharf. It 
was a familiar figure. In another moment I recognized 
it as that of Afanasi. My blood froze and my flesh 
crept as I realized what was coming. 

" Once fallen into his hands my life would be one of 
continuous torture," I thought. " I must save myself." 

But how could I escape ? If I were on land I might 
still have a chance. Here all avenues are closed. 
There he is already approaching the gate to the wharf. 
He is stopping to ask a question of a guard, who nods 
affirmatively. Now, he is walking a little faster. His 
face wears a grin that strikes terror into my heart. I 
am trapped. . . . But no, just wait a moment, Afanasi. 
Don't be sure of your triumph yet. I rush to the 
edge of the deck, cross myself and jump into the deep 
waters of the Ob. Ah, how thrilling it is to die ! So 
I have outwitted Afanasi, after all. It's cold, the water 
is cold. And I am going down, down. ... I am glad. 
I am triumphant. I have escaped from the trap . . . 
into the arms of death. 

I awoke, not in heaven, but in the hospital. I was 
observed jumping into the river, dragged out uncon- 
scious, and revived. 

The authorities questioned me as to the cause of my 
attempted suicide, and drew up a protocol. I told them 
of my husband, of his brutality, and the utter impossi- 
bility of living with him. 

Afanasi was waiting in the anteroom, to see me. 
My attempt at suicide had seriously upset him. It- 
aroused a sense of shame in him. Touched by my] 



MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 21 

story, the authorities went out and angrily rebuked 
him for his. maltreatment of me. He admitted his 
guilt, and swore that he would be gentle to me in the 
future. 

He was then admitted to the ward in which I lay. 
Falling on his knees, be begged my forgiveness, repeating 
his oath to me and professing his love for me in the most 
affectionate terms. His entreaties were so moving that 
I finally consented to return home with him. 

For a while Afanasi was truly a different man. In 
spite of his coarse habits, I was deeply touched by his 
efforts to be kind. However, that did not last long. 
We resumed our life of drudging toil. And vodka re- 
sumed its grip on him. Once drunk, be became just 
as brutal again. 

Gradually life with Afanasi grew as insufferable as 
it had been before my escape. That summer I turned 
nineteen, and I saw ahead of me nothing but a long 
series of dreary years. Afanasi wanted me to take to 
drink. I resisted, and that infuriated him. He made 
it a habit to torment me daily. He would hold a bottle 
of vodka to my face, and scoffing at me for my efforts 
to lift myself above my condition, he would endeavour 
by blows and kicks to force the bitter drink down my 
throat. One day he even stood over me with a bottle 
of vodka for three whole hours, pinning me down 
to the ground so that I was unable to move a muscle. 
Still I refused to give in. 

Winter came. I baked bread for a living. On 
Sundays I went to church to pray God to release me 
from my bondage. Again the thought of escaping 
took root in my mind. The first requisite was, of 
course, a passport, so I went secretly to a lawyer for 
advice, and he undertook to obtain one for me legally. 
But ill-luck attended me. When the police-constable 



22 YASHKA 

called to deliver the passport to me, Afanasi was at 
home. My scheme was discovered and my hopes were 
dashed to the ground. Afanasi hurled himself at me 
and bound me hand and foot, deaf to my entreaties 
and cries. I thought my end had come. In silence he 
carried me out of the house and tied me to a post. 

It was cold, very cold. He flogged me, drank, and 
flogged me again, cursing me in the vilest terms. 

" That's what you get for trying to escape," he 
bawled, holding the bottle to my mouth. " You won't 
escape any more. You will drink or you will 
die ! " 

I was obdurate and implored him to leave me alone. 
He continued his flogging, however, keeping me for 
four hours tied to the post, till I finally broke down and 
drank the vodka. I became intoxicated, staggered 
out into the street, and fell on the pavement in front 
of the house. Afanasi ran after me, cursing and kicking 
me. We were quickly surrounded by a crowd. My 
neighbours, who knew of his cruelty to me, came to my 
help. Afanasi was roughly handled, so roughly, indeed, 
that he left me in peace for some time afterwards. 

Christmas was drawing near. I had saved, little 
by little, fifty roubles (about £5 5*. 7d.). Every kopek 
of that money had been earned by extra toil during the 
night. It was all the earthly possession that I had, 
and I guarded it jealously. Somehow, Afanasi got 
wind of its hiding-place and stole it. He spent it all 
on drink. 

I was mad Avith fury upon discovering the loss. 
What the money meant to me in the circumstances is " 
diflicult to describe. It was my blood, my sweat, a < 
year of my youth. And he, the beast, squandered it 
in one orgy. The least I could do to my torturer was % 
to kill him. £ 



MARRIAGE AT FIFTEEN 23 

In a frenzy, I ran to my mother, who was struck by 
the expression of my face. 

" Marusia, what ails you ? " 

" Mother," I gasped, " let me have an axe. I am 
going to kill Afanasi." 

" Holy Mother, have mercy ! " she exclaimed, raising 
her hands to Heaven, and falling on her knees, she im- 
plored me to come to my senses. But I was too frantic 
with rage. I seized an axe and ran home. 

Afanasi returned, drunk, and began to taunt me with 
the loss of my precious savings. I was white with 
wrath and cursed him from the depth of my heart. 
He gripped a stool and threw it at me. I caught up 
the axe. 

" I will kill you, you blood-sucker ! " I screamed. 

Afanasi was stupefied. He had not expected that 
from me. The desire to kill was irresistible. Mentally, 
I already gloated over his dead body and the freedom 
that it would bring me. I was ready to swing the axe 
at him. . . . 

Suddenly the door flew open and my father rushed in. 
He had been sent by my mother. 

" Marusia, what are you doing ? " he cried out, 
gripping my arm. The break was too abrupt, my 
nerves collapsed, and I fell unconscious to the floor. 
Upon awakening I found the police in the house, and 
I told them everything. Afanasi was taken to the 
police-station, while the police-officer, a very kind- 
hearted man, advised me to leave the town to get away 
from him. 

I got my passport, but my money was gone. I could 
not afford to buy a ticket to Irkutsk, where Shura had 
moved from Barnaul. Determined to go at all costs I 
boarded a train without a ticket. The conductor 
discovered me on the way, and I cried and begged him 



24 YASHKA 

to allow me to proceed. He proposed to hide me in 
the baggage car and take me to Irkutsk, upon his own 
conditions. Enraged, I pushed him violently from me. 

" I will put you off at the next station," he shouted 
at me, running out of the car. And he kept his word. 

Nearly all the distance to Irkutsk was yet before me, 
and I wanted t6 get there without selling myself for 
the price of a ticket. There could be no thought of 
going back. I had to get to Irkutsk. I boarded the 
next train, and stealthily crouched under a seat, as it 
moved out of the station. 

Ultimately I was discovered, but this conductor was 
an elderly man and yielded to my tears and entreaties. I 
told him of my experience with the first conductor and of 
my total lack of money. He allowed me to proceed, 
and whenever an inspector boarded the train, he would 
signal to me to hide under the seat. Sometimes I would 
spend several hours at a stretch there, concealed by the 
legs of some kind passengers. In this manner I jour- 
neyed for four days, finally reaching my destination — 
Irkutsk. 



CHAPTER III 

A LITTLE HAPPINESS 

I ARRIVED in Irkutsk penniless. All I possessed was 
what I wore. I went to look for my sister, who was 
in poor circumstances and ill. Her husband was out 
of work. One could not expect an enthusiastic welcome 
under such conditions. I lost little time in seeking 
employment, and quickly found a place as a dishwasher 
at nine roubles (about 195.) a month. It was revolting 
work, in a filthy den patronized by drunkards. The 
treatment I received at the hands of the clients was so 
unbearable that I left at the end of the first day. 

On the third day I found work in a laundry, where I 
had to wash hundreds of articles daily. From five in 
the morning till eight in the evening I was bent over 
the washtub. It was bitter drudgery, but I was forced 
to stay at it for several weeks. I lived with my sister 
in one small room, paying her rent. Presently I began 
to feel pains in my back. The hard work was telling on 
me. I resolved to leave the laundry, although my sister 
was against my doing so. I had no money saved. 

Having had experience of concrete work, I applied 
for employment to an asphalte contractor. He was 
kind enough to give me a trial as an assistant foreman 
on a job he was doing at the Irkutsk prison. I was to 
take charge of ten men and women labourers. 

25 



26 YASHKA 

When I began I was met by an outburst of mirth on 
all sides. " Ha, ha," they laughed, " a baba holding 
a foreman's place ! " 

I paid no heed to the ridicule and went about my 
business quietly and gently. The men obeyed, and as 
they saw that I knew what I was about, began even to 
gain a respect for me. I was given for a first test 
the preparing of a floor. Stretching myself on the 
ground with the rest of the party, planning and working, 
I managed to finish my task a couple of hours ahead 
of my scheduled time, and marched the men triumph- 
antly out of the building, to the utter amazement of 
the other foremen. My employer was in high glee. 

" Look at this baba ! " he said. " She will have us 
men learning from her pretty soon. She should wear 
trousers." 

The following day I was put in charge of twenty-five 
men. As they still regarded me as a queer novelty, I 
made a little speech to them, telling them that I wa? 
a plain peasant worker, only seeking to earn my bread. 
I appealed to their sense of fairness to co-operate w ith 
me. Sending for some vodka and sausages I treated 
them and won their good will completely. My men 
called me " Manka " affectionately, and w^e got along 
splendidly. I was such a curiosity that the con- 
tractor himself invited me to his home for tea. His 
wife, who was a very kind soul, told me that her husband 
had been praising me to her very much. 

The great test, however, came several days later. I 
had to prove my ability in preparing asphalte and apply- 
ing it. We wore all at work at four o'clock in the morn- 
ing. As the quality of asphalte depends on the propor- 
tions of the elements used, the men w^ere waiting with 
some amusement for my orders. But I gave them 
without hesitation, and when the contractor arrived at six 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 27 

o'clock he found the kettles boiling and the labourers 
hard at work, pouring the asphalte on the gravel. 

This work has to be done without relaxation, amid 
awful heat and suffocating odours. For a whole year 
I stayed at it, working incessantly, with no holidays 
and no other rest. Like a pendulum, always in motion, 
I would begin my daily grind before dawn, returning 
home after sunset, only to eat and go to bed to gain 
strength for another day of cheerless toil. 

Finally I broke down. I caught cold while working 
in a basement, and became so weak that I was taken to 
the Kuznetzov Hospital, where I was confined to bed 
for two months. When I recovered and had rested for 
about a week, I returned to my job, but found it occupied 
by a man who had been especially brought from Euro- 
pean Russia. Besides, there wasn't much work left 
for the firm in Irkutsk. 

My sister and her husband moved back to Tomsk 
about this time, and my situation grew desperate. 
I looked for a place as a domestic servant, but having 
no references I found it impossible to obtain one. The 
little money I had finally gave out. My only friends 
in the town were the Sementovskys, neighbours of my 
sister. I lived with them, but they were poor them- 
selves, and so, for days at a time, I would go without 
food, my only sustenance consisting of tea. 

One day I applied at an employment agency and was 
informed, after being asked if I would agree to leave 
town, that a woman had been there looking for a ser- 
vant, and offered to pay twenty-five roubles (about 
£2 125. 9d.) a month. I instantly expressed my willing- 
ness to go to her. She appeared in the afternoon, young, 
beautiful, elegantly dressed, her fingers and neck 
adorned with dazzling jewels. She was very kind to 
me, inspected me carefully, and asked if I was married. 



28 YASHKA 

" I have been," I replied, " but I escaped from my 
husband about two years ago. He was such a brutal 
drunkard." I was then in my twenty-first year. 

The lady, whose name was Anna Petrovna, gave me 
ten roubles to pay the rent that I owed. I met her at 
the station, where she was accompanied by several 
men friends, and we started together for Stretinsk, 
in a second-class carriage. I had never been in one 
before in my life. Nothing occurred on the way. I 
was well fed and nicely treated by her. She spoke to 
me of their business, and I got the idea that her husband 
kept a shop. Upon our arrival at Stretinsk we were 
met by a man and two young women. The man was 
introduced to me as her husband, and the two women 
as her foster daughters. We drove home, where I was 
given a neat little room. 

I was getting uneasy. Things looked suspicious. 
" Where is the shop ? " I inquired. " In the market," 
was the answer. Anna Petrovna took me by the arm 
and caressingly suggested : 

"Marusenka, will you dress up nicely? We shall 
have guests to-night." And she handed me some very 
dainty and light garments, not at all befitting a servant. 
I was amazed, and objected emphatically. "I never 
wore such extravagant clothes, Anna Petrovna. I am 
a plain working girl," and I blushed deeply. I was both 
ashamed and afraid. I had a premonition of evil. 
And when she handed me a very low-necked gown I 
became thoroughly frightened. 

But Anna Petrovna was persuasive and persistent, 
and I was finally persuaded to put it on. It was so^ 
transparent that my cheeks burnt with shame. I 
refused to leave my room, but was coaxed by Anna 
Petrovna mto following her. As I crossed the thres- 
hold I saw several girls sitting in company with men, 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 29 

drinking beer. A young man was standing apart, 
evidently anticipating our appearance. He moved 
toward us. Anna Petrovna had apparently promised 
me to him. 

Stars were shooting before my eyes. " A house of 
shame ! " The thought pierced my mind and made me 
furious. I lost all my submissiveness and meekness. 
Seizing my clothes, I tore them madly into shreds, 
stamping with my feet, cursing, shrieking and breaking 
everything that I could get hold of. I caught up several 
bottles of beer and shattered them into fragments on the 
floor. 

This outbreak lasted but a moment. Everybody in 
the room was too stupefied to move before I ran out of 
the house, wrapped only in a shawl. I hastened to the 
police-station at a pace that made people in the streets 
think that I must be mad. Arriving there I made my 
complaint to the officer in charge. 

To all appearance he was little touched by my story. 
While I prayed for mercy and relief, on my knees before 
him, he was regarding me with amusement. He drew 
me to him and proposed that I should go to live with 
him ! I was shocked and overwhelmed. He, whose 
duty it was to protect me, was clearly in alliance with 
white slave traders. 

" You are all scoundrels and murderers ! " I cried out 
in anguish. " You ought to be ashamed to take advan- 
tage of a defenceless girl." 

He grew angry and ordered me to be locked up for the 
night. The policeman who took me away also made 
advances to me, and I had to slap him to keep him away. 
The cell was cold, dark and dirty. I had left my shawl 
upstairs. Enraged against the authorities, I broke all 
the windows and hammered continuously at the doors 
and walls, till I was set free in the morning. 



80 YASHKA 

But my troubles had only begun. I had no place to 
go. For two days I wandered about the town day and 
night. I was starved and worn out. Then I knelt 
on the bank of the river and prayed for half an hour. 
I prayed devoutly, pouring out my whole soul. It 
seemed to me that the Lord had heard my plea, and I 
felt relieved. 

I resolved to return to Anna Petrovna after my prayer. 
I thought she had been so kind at first that if I begged 
her to let me work for her as a servant she would agree. 
Before entering her house I went into the little grocer's 
shop nearby, and posing as the new servant of Anna 
Petrovna, who was a customer of the place, got a small 
bottle of essence of vinegar. I then entered the house 
and was well received. However, the solicitude for 
my safety angered me, and I resented Anna Petrovna's 
caresses. I locked myself up in my room, getting ready 
to poison myself with the essence. 

As I was saying my last prayers there was a knock 
at the door. " Who is it ? " I asked sharply. The 
reply was : "I am that young man whom you saw two 
days ago in the parlour. I want to help you. I realize 
that you are not a girl of that sort. Pray, open the door 
and let me talk to you." 

I naturally thought that this was another trap 
and answered wrathfuUy : " You are a villain I You 
are all villains I What do you want with me ? What 
have I done to deserve torture and stai-vation ? If I 
fall into your hands it will be only when I am dead. I 
am going to drink this poison and let you gloat over 
my corpse." 

The man got excited. He ran out into the yard, 
raised an alann, and dragging several people with him, 
shouted that I had threatened to take poison. A large 
crowd collected round the house, and he forced the 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 31 

window of my room from the outside and jumped in. 
Seizing the glass of essence, he threw it out of the 
window, cursing Anna Petrovna and her house. He 
made every effort to calm me, expressing his admiration 
for my courage and virtue. His professions of sincerity 
and friendship were so convincing that I yielded to his 
invitation to go with him to the home of his parents. 

My saviour, who was a handsome young man of about 
tAventy-four, was Yakov Buk. He was a man of edu- 
cation, having studied at a high school for some time. 
His father M^as a butcher. I was well received by his 
family, fed, dressed and allowed to rest. They were kind 
and hospitable people. Yakov, or Yasha, as he was 
called by his intimates, took especial care of me. He 
loved me, and it was not long before he declared that 
he could not live without me. 

I was also attracted towards him. He knew of my 
previous marriage and proposed that we should live 
together by civil agreement, without the sanction of 
the Church, a very common mode of marriage in Russia 
of late years, because of the difficulty of obtaining a 
divorce. I consented to his proposal, on condition that 
he told me the reason for his living in a small bam in 
the back yard, apart from the family. He agreed. 

" When I was twenty," he began, " my father was 
engaged in the business of supplying meat to several 
army regiments. He was a partner in a firm, and was 
assisted by my brothers and myself. Considering me 
the most industrious and reliable of his sons, he entrusted 
me once with ten thousand roubles (about £1,055 lis.) 
to go to buy cattle. Most of the money did not belong 
to him. 

" On the train I was drawn into a game of cards, 
deliberately got up by a gang of rascals for the purpose 
of fleecing innocent passengers like myself. I lost all 



82 YASHKA 

my money and my clothes to boot. Dressed in rags, 
with two roubles, presented to me by the gamblers, 
in my pocket, I alighted at the Chinese frontier in a 
suicidal state of mind. There I became acquainted, at 
an inn, with some Chinese brigands w^ho were members 
of a band operating in the neighbourhood. One of 
them was the chief of the band. 

" I told him my story, adding that I would do any- 
thing to save my father from disgrace and bankruptcy. 
He proposed that I should join his band in a raid on 
an incoming train which was Carrjnng fifty thousand 
roubles. I was aghast at the suggestion. But then 
I had a vision of my parents turned out of their house, 
of their property sold at auction, and of themselves 
forced to go begging. It rent my heart. There was 
nothing to do but to accept the offer. I was led by 
tlic chief into a field and there introduced to most of 
the robbers. I was the only white man in the band. 

" In the evening we armed ourselves with daggers, 
pistols and rifles and started for the railway line, where 
we lay in wait for the train. The thoiight that I had 
turned highwayman nearly froze my blood. It was 
such a violence to my own nature. 

"The train was to pass at one in the morning. I 
prayed to God that He would save me somehow from 
this experience. Suddenly a body of Cossacks appeared 
in the distance, racing in our direction. The authorities 
liad been on the track of this band for a long time. 
Every man in the gang threw down his weapons and ran 
mto the forest. I, too, ran for all I was worth. 

" The Cossacks pursued us, and I was caught. As 
I was a Russian and a new member of the organization, 
I succeeded by persistent denials of any knowledge of 
the band in creating doubt in the minds of my captors 
as to my participation in the projected raid. But 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 88 

I was arrested, and sent to the Irkutsk prison, where 
1 was kept for a whole year. There I came in 
contact with many politicals and was converted to 
their ideas. Finally, for lack of evidence I was set 
free. 

" I returned home covered with disgrace. My father 
had arrived at an understanding with his partner where- 
by he was to pay back in monthly instalments the 
sum I had gambled away. He would not let me enter 
the house, but my mother defended me. There was 
a quarrel, which ended in an agreement that I be allowed 
to occupy this barn. But my father swore that he would 
disinherit me, giving my share of his estate to his other 
sons." 

I soon had occasion to discover that Yasha was con- 
sidered a suspicious character by the local police, 
because of his imprisonment. His kindness, too, was 
his misfortune. Freed or escaped prisoners would 
sometimes visit him secretly and he would give them his 
last penny, piece of bread or shirt. But I liked him 
all the more for that, for it was this warm heart in him 
that had rescued me from death. We vowed to be 
faithful to each other for ever. And I entered upon my 
duties as a housewife. 

The barn in which we were going to live was filled 
with rubbish, and had never been cleaned. I applied 
myself industriously to making it habitable. It was not 
an easy task, but I finally succeeded. We received a 
gift of one hundred roubles from Yasha's parents, and 
decided to establish a butcher's shop of our own. We 
got some lumber and built a small shop. Then Yasha 
bought three cows and the two of us led them to the 
slaughter-house, where I learned how to butcher. Yasha 
ran the shop. I was the first woman butcher in that 
neighbourhood. 



84 YASHKA 

One summer day, while walking in the street, I saw 
some boys peddling ice-cream. I had learned how to 
make ice-cream during my apprenticeship with Nastasia 
Leontievna. It occurred to me that I could make 
ice-cream and sell it. Finding out from the boys how 
much they paid for it, I offered them better cream at 
a lower price and asked them to come for it the next 
day. I immediately returned home and bought milk 
from Yasha's mother, who offered to give it to me 
without payment upon learning the purpose for which it 
was intended. The ice-cream I prepared was, happily, 
very good, and it sold quickly. During the summer I 
earned two or three roubles daily by this means. 

I led a life of peaceful industry with Yasha for about 
three years. Every morning I would get up at six 
o'clock and go with him to the slaughter-house. Then 
all day I would spend at home. There were always 
many poor people, mostly women and children, stranded 
in our town, which was the junction of a railway and 
river route. They would wander about the streets, 
begging for bread and shelter. The greater number of 
them would land in our barn-home. At times they 
would fill it completely, sleeping in rows on the floor. 
Frequently they were ill. I fed them, washed them, 
and looked after their children. 

Yasha would often remonstrate with me for working 
so incessantly and so hard. But I had my reward in 
the gratitude and blessings these women bestowed upon 
me. There was joy in being able to serve. In addition, 
I sent regularly to my mother ten roubles (about £l I5.) 
a month. Yasha taught me in leisure moments hoAV 
to read. 

My name became a household word in the neighbour- 
liood. Wherever I went I was blessed. "There goes 
Buk-Botchkareva ! " people would point at me, whis- 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 85 

pering. Yasha's parents also grew very attached to me. 

It all ended one evening in May, 1912. There was 
a peculiar knock at the door, and Yasha went out to 
admit a man of about thirty, well dressed, with a beard 
and pince-nez, of distinguished appearance. He was 
pale and showed signs of agitation. He stood with 
Yasha in the passage-way for ten minutes, talking in a 
whisper. He was then introduced to me as an old 
friend of Yasha's. He had escaped from prison and 
it was our task to hide him, as his capture would mean 
his death. The unexpected guest was no less a person 
than the revolutionary who was responsible for the 
death of a notorious Governor of Siberia. 

Yasha proceeded to remove our bed from its corner. 
He next removed a board in the lower part of the wall, 
revealing, to my great astonishment, a deep cavity 
in the ground underneath. Our visitor was invited 
to make himself comfortable there. The board was 
replaced and the bed restored to its former position. 
Yasha and I went to bed. 

We had barely put out the light when there was heard 
a thumping of many feet around the house, followed 
by loud knocks at the door. It was the police ! My 
heart was in my mouth, but I feigned sleep while Yasha 
opened the door. He had previously given me his 
revolver to hide and I concealed it in my bosom. The 
search continued for nearly two hours. I was dragged 
out of bed, and everything in the house was turned 
upside down. 

We denied any knowledge of a political fugitive, but 
the sheriff took Yasha along with him. However, he 
was released a couple of hours later. Upon his return 
Yasha let the man out of the secret hole, supplied him 
with peasant clothes and food, harnessed our horse 
and drove away with him before dawn, instructing me 



36 YASHKA 

to answer to all inquiries by saying that he had gone to 
buy cattle. 

On the outskirts of the town a policeman, emerging 
from some drinking den in a semi-drunken condition, 
observed Yasha driving by. He attached little signifi- 
cance to the fact at the time, but when he reported for 
duty in the morning and learned of the fugitive, he 
said that he had seen Yasha leave the town with a 
stranger. I was doing some washing when the house 
was again surrounded by police. 

" Where is your husband ? " the sheriff inquired 
fiercely. " Gone to buy cattle," I replied. 

" Get ready to come with me ! " he shouted angrily. 
I pleaded innocence, but in a terrible voice he informed 
me that I was under arrest. 

I was taken to the detective bureau, where a middle- 
aged man, who talked very gently, and seemed very 
mindful of my comfort, entered into a conversation 
with me and even invited me to tea, which invitation I 
refused. He went about his work very craftily, and I 
was nearly caught when he asked me if I had also met 
the young man who had arrived at our house at nine 
o'clock the night before. 

His information was quite correct, but I obstinately .| 
refused to admit the truth. I declared that I knew 
nothing of the young man he spoke of, but my examiner j 
was patient. He was generous in his praise of my help ^ 
and devotion to the poor. Promising me inmQunity,S 
he urged me to tell the truth. ^ 

I would not yield, and his patience finally wore out^ ^ 
and he struck me furiously with a rubber whip a couple 
of times. I was enraged and bestowed on him some 
epithets that led to my being locked up in a cell where | 
two drunken street women were confined. They were | 
'>f tlio lowest c'lpss nnd were venting curses on every- i 



1 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 37 

body. They persecuted me unceasingly. It was a 
horrible night that I passed there. The stench alone 
was sufficient to drive one mad. I was greatly relieved 
when morning arrived, and I was taken to the office for 
another examination. 

I repeated my denials. There followed threats of 
long imprisonment, coaxings, rebukes and attempts to 
extort a confession from me, and I learned that Yasha 
had been arrested on his way back, before reaching 
home, so that he did not know of my own arrest. I 
was detained for seven days, at the end of which the 
authorities, having been unable to obtain anything 
from me, set me free. 

Yasha was still in jail, and I started out to visit 
various officials and bureaus in his behalf. The chief 
of police of the province was then in town, stopping in 
the house of a friend of ours. I invoked the aid of the 
latter for the purpose of obtaining an interview with 
him, and finally I was admitted to the presence of a* 
largely built man wearing the uniform of a colonel. I 
fell on my knees before him and protested my husband's 
innocence, praying for mercy. I was so unnerved that 
he helped me to rise and ordered some water for me, 
promising to investigate the case and to secure that 
justice was done. 

I went next to the jail, hoping to see Yasha. But 
there I was informed that he had been sent to Nert- 
chinsk, about five miles from Stretinsk. I was not 
long in making an effort to catch up with him. Taking 
with me a hundred roubles, I caught the next train to 
Nertchinsk, just as I was, and, immediately upon my 
arrival there, sought an audience with the Governor, 
and was told to await my turn in the line. When my 
turn came, the Governor, reading my name from the 
list, asked : 



88 YASHKA 

" Well, what is your case ? " 

"My husband, your Excellency, Yasha Buk," I 
replied. 

" Your husband, eh ? How is he your husband il' 
your name is Botchkareva ? " 

" By civil agreement, your Excellency." 

" We know these civil marriages," he remarked 
scoffingly. " There are many like you in the streets," 
and he dismissed my case. He said it in the hearing of 
a room full of people. My blood rushed to my face, and 
I was bitterly hurt. It was with difficulty that I got 
a card of admission to the prison, but how profound 
was my grief upon being informed that Yasha had spent 
there only one night and had been sent on to Irkutsk. 

I had barely enough money with me to buy a fourth- 
class ticket to Irkutsk, and hardly any of the necessaries 
for a journey, but I did not hesitate to take the next 
train westward. It took three days to reach the Siberian 
capital. I stopped again with the Sementovskys, who 
were glad to welcome me. I made my way to the Irkutsk 
prison, only to discover that Yasha had been taken 
to the Central Distribution Prison at Alexandrovsk, two 
miles from the railway station of Usolye. There was 
little time to lose. I left the same day for Usolye, 
whence I had to walk to Alexandrovsk. 

It was late in the autumn of 1912. I started out with 
little food, and was soon exhausted. It was not an 
easy task to get to Alexandrovsk. The road lay across 
a river and through an island, connected by ferries. 

On the way I made the acquaintance of a woman, 
Avdotia Ivanovna Kitova, who was also bound for the 
prison. Her husband was there too, and she told me 
why. He was drunk when the dog-catcher came to take 
away his favourite dog, and he shot the dog-catcher; 
now he was sentenced to exile, and she had decided to 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 39 

go along with him, with her two children, who were in 
Irkutsk. 

At the Central Prison I received another shock. I 
could not be admitted without a pass. I did not know 
that it was necessary to have a pass I declared. But 
the warden in charge, a wizened old man, with a flowing 
white beard, shouted angrily at me, " No ! No ! 
Get out of here. It's against the law^ ; you can't be 
admitted. Go to Irkutsk and come back with a pass, 
and we will let you in." 

"But I have journeyed nearly seventy miles to see 
him." I pleaded, in tears. " I am worn out and hungry. 
Allow me to see him just for five minutes — only five 
short minutes. Is there no mercy in your heart for a 
weak woman ? " 

With this I broke down and became hysterical. The 
harsh little warden, and his assistants in the office, 
became frightened. Yasha was brought in for a brief 
interview. The few minutes that we were allowed to 
pass in each other's presence gave us new strength. 
He told me of his experiences, and I told him of mine, 
and we decided that I should go to the Governor-General, 
Kniazev, to entreat his mercy. 

It was not till late evening that I started back to the 
railway station. I reached the river at dusk and man- 
aged to catch a ferry to the island. But it was dark 
when I landed there, and I lost my way trying to cross 
the island to the other ferry. 

I was cold, hungry, exhausted. My feet were swollen 
from wandering for several hours in a frantic effort to 
find the right path. When at last I got to the other 
side it must have been about midnight. I saw the 
lights across the water and called with all my remaining 
strength for the ferry. But there was no response. 
Only the wind, shrieking through the woods behind me, 



40 YASHKA 

echoed my cries. 1 kept calling all night, but in vain. 

When it dawned I gathered my last energies, stood 
up and called out again. This time I was observed, 
and a canoe was sent after me. Unfortunately, it was 
in charge of a boy. I was too ill to move, and he could 
not carry me to it. I had to creep on all-fours to the 
boat. With the boy's aid, I finally found myself in 
the canoe. It took him a long time to ferry me across, 
and I was in a state of collapse by the time we reached 
the other side. I was taken to the Kuznetzov Hospital 
in Irkutsk again, where I lay dangerously ill for nearly 
two months. During this time I lost all my hair and 
half my weight. 

After my visit to Yasha he naturally told his prison 
mates of it, being proud of my loyalty to him, but when 
days and weeks passed by, and I did not return, his 
comrades began to tease him about me. 

" A fine baba is yours. You may indeed be proud of 
her," they would torment him. " She has found some 
other husband. A lot of use she has for you, a prisoner. 
They are all alike, yours and ours." Yasha took such 
jesting very much to heart. He was in complete 
ignorance of my whereabouts and finally made up his 
mind that I had betrayed him. 

As soon as I was released from the hospital, I went to 
the Governor-General, in whose office I was told that 
Yasha had been sentenced to four years' exile. Obtain- 
ing a pass, I went to Alexandrovsk to see him. But 
Yasha would not see me. Believing his comrades' 
taunts, confirmed by my two months' absence, he 
resolved that he had done with me. I was naturally 
at a loss to account for this abrupt change, and wept 
bitterly. Some of his acquaintances, who had been 
brought downstairs, saw me crying and described to 
him my wasted appearance. Then he came down. 



A LITTLE HAPPINESS 41 

Visitors were not allowed to come in contact with 
the prisoners at Alexandrovsk. There were two steel 
gratings in the office, separated by a distance of a couple 
of feet. The prisoner was kept behind one grating, 
while the persons who came to see him were placed 
behind the other. They could not touch each other. 

This was the manner in which I was permitted to 
meet Yasha. We both cried like children, he, at the 
sight of my thinness, realizing that he had wronged me 
in suspecting me of faithlessness. It was a pathetic 
scene, this meeting behind bars. Yasha told me that 
he would not be exiled before May. As I offered to 
accompany him into exile, it was necessary for me to 
spend the several intervening months at some work. 
I also had to get permission to join Yasha in exile. 

I found work with the same asphalt e firm, but now as 
a common labourer, earning only fifty kopeks (about 
l5.) a day. At intervals I would go to Alexandrovsk 
to see Yasha. It happened once that I was working 
at a Job in the Irkutsk prison, and it was not long before 
the prisoners knew that I had a husband in Alexandrovsk, 
for there was a complete secret system of communica- 
tion between the two prisons. On the whole, I was 
well treated by the convicts. 

One evening, however, while at work in the hall, a 
trusty, catching me in a corner, attacked me. I fought 
hard, but he knocked me down. My cries were heard 
by the labourers of my party and several prisoners. 
Soon we were surrounded by a crowd, and a quarrel 
ensued between those who defended me and the friends 
of the trusty. An assistant warden and some guards 
put an end to it, drawing up a protocol of my complaint 
to have the trusty tried in court for assault. 

As the day of the trial drew near Yasha was urged 
by his fellow-prisoners to influence me to withdraw my 



42 YASHKA 

charge. He told me that the law of prison communal 
life demanded that I should comply with the request 
to drop my complaint. I knew that my refusal might 
mean Yasha's death, and when I was called in court to 
testify against the trusty, I declared that there had been 
no assault and that I had no complaints to make. The 
case was dismissed, and my act enhanced Yasha's 
reputation among the inmates of both prisons. 

The winter passed. Toward Easter of 1913 I suc- 
ceeded in obtaining permission to have myself arrested 
and sent to Alexandrovsk, in anticipation of my exile 
with Yasha. I was put in the women's building, in 
which were detained a number of women criminals. 
What I endured at their hands is almost beyond descrip- 
tion. They beat me, but I knew that complaining 
would make my lot more bitter. When supper was 
served to us the matron asked me if I had been badly 
treated. I said no, but she must have known better, 
for, turning to the women, she told them not to iU-usc 
me. 

My reply to the matron somewhat' improved my 
relations with my prison-mates, but they forced me, 
nevertheless, to wait on them and do their dirty work. 
In addition to these sufferings, the food was putrid. The 
bunks in which we slept were dirty. Eight of us were 
in one tiny cell. I saw Yasha only once a week, every 
Sunday. I spent two months in this voluntary imprison- 
ment, but it seemed like two years to me, and I looked 
forward eagerly and impatiently to the day of our 
starting on the open road to exile. 



m 



CHAPTER IV 

THE ROAD TO EXIDE 

MAY had come. The Lena had opened and become 
navigable. The heavy iron doors of the prison 
were unlocked and hundreds of inmates, including 
myself and Yasha, were mustered out in the yard to 
prepare for exile. 

Every winter the huge prison at Alexandrovsk would 
gather within its walls thousands of unfortunate human 
beings, murderers, forgers, thieves, students, officers, 
peasants and members of the professional classes, who 
had transgressed against the tyrannical regime. Every 
spring the gloomy jail would open its doors and pour 
out a stream of half-benumbed men and women into 
the wild Siberian forest and the uninhabited regions 
bordering on the Arctic. 

All through the spring and summer this river of 
tortured humanity would flow through Alexandrovsk 
into' the snow-bound north, where they languished in 
unendurable cold and succumbed in large numbers in 
the land of the six months' night. Tens of thousands of 
them lie scattered from the Ural mountains to Alaska 
in unmarked graves. . . . 

So finally we were to breathe some fresh air. There 
was much stir and bustle before our party was formed. 
It consisted of about a thousand persons, including 
twenty women. Our guard was composed of five hun- 

43 



44 YASHKA 

dred soldiers. We were to go on foot to Katchugo, 
near the source of the Lena, a distance of about one 
hundred and thirty-three miles . Our baggage was loaded 
on wagons. 

We travelled about twenty-two miles in the first day, 
according to schedule, stopping for the night at an 
exile-station on the edge of a village. There are many 
such stations on the Siberian roads — large wooden 
buildings of barn-like construction, with iron doors and 
grated windows. Empty inside, save for double tiers 
of bunks, they are surrounded by high fences, with a 
sentry-box at every corner. They offer no opportunity 
for escape. 

We supped on food we had brought from the prison, 
and turned in for the night. Our party was divided 
into groups of ten, each group choosing a trusty charged 
with the purchasing of food. Beginning with the second 
day, each of us received an allowance of twenty kopeks 
(about 5d.). 

There were about one hundred politicals in the party, 
the remainder being a mixed assemblage of criminals. 
These two classes of prisoners did not get on well to- 
gether, and there was a continuous feud. Men and 
women were packed together, and, some of the latter 
behaved outrageously. The filth, the vermin-infested 
inmks, the unimaginable stench, the frequent brawls, 
made our journey insufferably hideous. 

Further, there was a privileged group among us con- 
sisting of the long-sentence convicts, who wore chains 
and were always given priority by the unwritten law 
of the criminal world. They always had the first use 
of the kettles to prepare their food. Until they had 
fmished none of us dared approach the fire. Their 
word was law. They were always given the prece- 
dence. Even the soldiers and officers respected their 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 45 

privileges. One of them was chief of the party, and 
if he pledged himself, in return for more freedom for 
all of us, that there would be no escapes, his word 
would be taken without question by the Commander 
of the Guard, and it was never broken. 

The weather was fine the first three days. We 
travelled twenty miles the second day and the same 
distance the third day, but then it began to pour, and 
the roads became almost impassable. The mud was 
frightful, but we had to walk our scheduled twenty 
miles. Many in our party fell ill. We looked forward 
to the next exile-station with eager expectation, so 
soaked were we and so tired. We longed for a roof and 
a dry floor, and nothing else. We forgot our hunger, 
we did not feel the vermin that night, for as soon as we 
reached the station we dropped into a leaden sleep. 

We had a two-days' rest upon our arrival at Katchugo, 
and were allowed to bathe in the Lena, our chief making 
himself responsible for our conduct. We found a small 
party waiting to join us at Katchugo. 
, A member of this new group was recognized by some 
of the exiles as one who was said to have betrayed his 
comrade in a raid, and was dragged for trial before the 
entire body. 

Here I witnessed a remarkable scene, the trial of a 
criminal by criminals. There was as rigid a code of 
morals in the underworld as in any legitimate govern- 
ment, and just as relentless a prosecution. It was 
announced that there would be a trial and the privileged 
criminals in chains were chosen as judges. The accusers 
were called upon to state their charges, in the hearing 
of the whole party. They related how the accused man 
had betrayed a comrade in a robbery some time ago. 

There were cries of, " Kill him ! Kill him ! The 
traitor ! Kill him ! " This was the usual punishment 



46 YASHKA 

for any one found guilty. It was the custom of the 
authorities to watch the proceedings and never interfere 
with the carrying out of a sentence. As the mob was 
closing in on the accused, and my heart was sinking 
within me, the judges called for order and demanded 
that the man be given a hearing too. White and 
trembling, he got up to tell his story in detail. 

" There were two of us," he began, " in the scheme to 
rob a banker. It was decided that I should force my 
way into the house through a window, hide there and 
signal to my confederate at the opportune moment. I 
found that the banker had gone for the evening to a 
club, and concealed myself in a closet, waiting for his 
return. My comrade kept guard, without receiving 
any sign from me, for a couple of hours. 

" When the banker returned he sent his valet to 
fetch something from the closet in which I was hidden. 
The valet discovered me, and raised an alarm, and some 
servants ran out to call for help just at the moment 
when my comrade was about to enter the house. He 
was caught. I managed to escape through the window 
and the garden. I am innocent, comrades. I have 
been a criminal for many years, and I have a clean, 
honourable record." 

He then proceeded to enumerate the most striking 
accomplishments of his career, the chiefs under whom he 
had worked, and the robbers with whom he had been 
associated in the past. 

He must have mentioned some very important per- 
sonages, as immediately a number of voices were raised 
in his favour. Some got up and spoke in high terms of 
the connections of the accused, while others scoffed at 
him. The deliberations lasted for several hours, result- 
ing in the acquittal of the man. 

The entire party, at the conclusion of the rest at 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 47 

Katchugo, was taken on board a huge roofed barge. 
A thousand people in one hole ! The prison at Alexan- 
drovsk, the exile-stations, were paradise in comparison 
with this unimaginable den. There was no air and no 
light. Instead of windows there were some small 
openings in the roof. Many fell ill, and were left lying 
there uncared for, some of them dying. We were so 
crowded that we slept almost on top of one another, 
inhaling the foulest of odours. Every morning we were 
allowed to come out on the deck of the barge, which was 
towed by a tug. 

In our group was the woman Kitova, with her husband 
and two children. We cooked and ate our food together, 
suffering much at the hands of the criminals. There 
were some quiet people among the latter, and they 
suffered from the whims of the leaders and their lackeys. 

There was one such case of a man, who happened to 
cross the path of an old criminal. The latter did not 
like the way he looked at him, and the poor man was 
beaten and, without any ceremony, thrown overboard 
and drowned. We were all locked up for it inside the 
barge and were denied the privilege of going out on the 
deck. It was the most cruel of punishments, worse 
than a long term in prison. 

We changed barges on the way, spending about two 
months on the water, having journeyed about two 
thousand miles upon arriving at Yakutsk at the end of 
July. We were beached at night, but it was almost as 
light as day, though much colder. 

Our joy at landing was indescribable. The local 
politicals all came out to welcome us. We were marched 
to the Yakutsk prison, where our roll was called. Here 
the women were separated from the men, and those who 
voluntarily accompanied their husbands were set free. 

I then went to the office to inquire about the fate of 



48 YASHKA 

Yasha, and was told that it was probable that he would 
be sent farther north. I was cared for by the local 
politicals, who sheltered me and gave me new clothing 
and money Avitlt wliich to purchase food and cook dinners 
for Yasha. 

Yakutsk is such a distant place that the prisoners 
there are allowed considerable freedom. I was kindly 
treated by the officials when I took the dinner-pail to 
Yasha, and was permitted to remain with him as long 
as I desired, even in privacy. 

Shortly afterwards Yasha was informed that he had 
been assigned to Kolymsk, within seven miles of the 
Arctic ocean, where the snow never melts and the winter 
never relaxes its grip. The news ^as a terrible shock to 
us. To be buried alive in some snow-bound hut ! 
What for ? To live like beasts in that uninhabitable 
region from which only few ever emerge alive ! 

There was still one ray of hope. Governor Kraft, of 
Yakutsk, had the reputation of being a very kind man, 
and he might reassign Yasha if I begged him to do so. 
Yasha had been advised to appeal to the Governor, and 
he sent me on this mission. 

The Governor's office was in his home. He received 
me very kindly, even shook my hand, and invited me 
to be seated. He was a tall, erect, black-bearded man 
of middle-age, and he showed every consideration for 
mc as I told my story. I proposed to him to open a 
sanitary butcher's shop in Yakutsk if he allowed Yasha 
to remain there, as the local butchers' shops were in- 
conceivably filthy. 

He at first refused to consider my suggestion, but 
then, apparently on second thoughts, bade me. follow 
him into his private room, where he seated me at a 
table, and, filling two glasses with wine, invited me to 
drink with him. I refused, wondering what could be 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 49 

the reason for this extreme friendliness. He drew 
nearer to me, laid his hands on my coat and removed it. 
Before I recovered from my astonishment he seized my 
hand and kissed it. No man had ever before kissed my 
hand, and I had an idea that it was an action that could 
only imply immoral intentions. Startled and indignant, 
I jumped to my feet. 

" I will give you a thousand roubles, room for a 
butcher's shop in the market, and keep your husband 
in Yakutsk, if you will agree to belong to me," the 
Governor declared, trying to calm me. 

I lost my self-control. " Scoundrels ! beasts ! you 
men are all alike ! " I shouted. " All ! all ! all ! High 
and low, you are all depraved." Seizing my coat, I 
ran out of the house, leaving the Governor speechless. 

I rushed to my lodging, locked myself in a room and 
wept all night. My errand had failed, and I was now 
faced with the choice between a living death for Yasha 
and selling myself. I had visions of Kolymsk, a settle- 
ment consisting of several scattered huts, inhabited 
by natives, lost in the vast expanse of the ice-bound 
steppe, and buried for months under mountains of 
snow. I could almost hear the howling of the Arctic 
winds, and the frightful growling of the polar bears. 

I pictured Yasha in the midst of it, cut off from 
human companionship, slowly languishing in the mono- 
tony of inactivity. Then my thoughts would revert 
to the other alternative. To live and work with Yasha 
in outward happiness, and stealthily, in the night, to 
go to this degenerate Governor ! And what if Yasha 
learned of my secret visits ? How should I explain ? 
And of what avail would any explanations be to him ? 
No, it was impossible, impossible ! Ah, what a terrible 
night it was ! From visions of the frozen banks of 
the Arctic waters, my imagination would carry me to 

E 



50 YASHKA 

the revolting embraces of Governor Kraft, in a fruitless 
search for a way out. 

Morning finally came and found me completely worn 
out. When my friends questioned me as to the result 
of my call on the Governor, I replied that he had refused 
my appeal. In low spirits I went to see Yasha. He 
quickly noticed my downcast appearance and inquired 
into the cause. 

" I saw the Governor, and he would not change your 
place of exile," I informed him dejectedly. 

Yasha flared up. " You appealed to the Governor, 
eh ? The Governor never yet refused an appeal of this 
sort from a woman, I am told. He is the kindest of 
men. The warden here just told me that the Governor 
has long felt the need of a first-class butcher's shop in 
the town, and would never let us go if properly appealed 
to. I hear that you did not plead with sufficient 
warmth. You want to get rid of me, eh ? You vv^ant 
to have me sent to Kolymsk to die, so that you can 
remain here alone and carry on with some other 
man." 

Yasha's words pained me deeply. He had always 
been very jealous, but the strain of the imprisonment 
and the journey had made him more irritable. Besides, 
it was evident that some one from the Governor's office^ 
had informed him that I had not sufficiently exerted, 
myself in his behalf. I did not dare to tell him the 
truth, for that would have meant certain exile tO' 
Kolymsk, and I still hoped against hope. 

" Yasha," I implied, " how can you say such things] 
of me ? You know how I love you, and if you go to 
Kolymsk I shall go with you. I have been to the 
Governor, and entreated him." 

"Then go again. Fall on your knees before him. 
and beg harder. He is said to be such a kind man 



i 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 51 

that he will surely have mercy. Otherwise, we are 
lost. Think of our destination, a land without sun, a 
colony of three or four huts, spread over a space of 
about ten miles, that is Kolymsk. No horses, no busi- 
ness, no trades ! It is not a land for the living. Go and 
implore the Governor, and he may take pity." 

I looked at Yasha, and my heart was filled with 
anguish. He was only twenty-seven, but his hair was 
already turning grey. He looked pale and exhausted. 
I could not keep myself from breaking into sobs. Yasha 
was touched, and, placing his arm around me, apolo- 
gized for his insinuation, assuring me of his devotion 
and appreciation of my endeavours to sustain him in 
his trials. I left him, with the understanding that I 
would call on the Governor again. 

" To go or not to go," was the thought that tormented 
me on the way from Yasha . I learned that the Governor 
was notorious as a libertine. He had married into 
the family of a high-placed bureaucrat for the sake of 
a career, and his wife was a hunch-back, spending most 
of her time abroad. Plucking up courage, I went to 
the Governor again, hoping to win his favour by a 
passionate plea for Yasha. As I entered the office 
I saw the clerks wink to one another significantly. I 
could scarcely keep my self-control, trembling in antici- 
pation of another meeting with the Governor. As I 
was admitted into his study he stood up and smiled 
benevolently, saying : 

" Ah, so finally you have come, my dear. Now, 
don't be afraid ; I won't harm you. Calm yourself, 
and be seated," and he helped me to a chair. 

" Have pity on us, sir. Permit Yasha to remain 
here," I sobbed. 

" Now, now, don't cry," he interrupted me. " I 
will. He shall stay." 



52 YASHKA 

My heart was full of gratitude, and I threw myself 
on the floor at his feet, thanking and blessing him for 
his kindness. Then it occurred to me that Yasha would 
be overjoyed to hear the news, and I rose to go, telling 
the Governor of my purpose. 

" You need not tire yourself by rushing to the prison. 
I will have the message telephoned to the warden, 
with instructions to inform your husband immediately," 
the Governor said, " and you may rest here a little 
while." 

I was overflowing with thankfulness. He poured 
some wine into a glass and insisted that I should drink 
it to refresh myself. I had never tasted wine before, 
and this particular wine was of a very strong quality. 
I felt a wave of warmth creep over me. It was so sweet 
and languorous. The Governor then filled my glass 
again and, also one for himself, invited me to drink with 
him. I made an effort to resist, but was too weak to 
withstand his persuasion. After the second glass it 
was much easier for the Governor to make me empty the 
third. I became drowsy and dull, unable to move. 
T had a sense of the Governor removing my clothes, | 
but was too helpless to protest, let alone to offer physical I 
resistance. He embraced me, kissed me, but I remained I 
inert. I then had a sensation of being picked up by 
him and carried to a couch. Very dimly I seemed to 
realize it all, and, collecting my last strength, I attempted 
to struggle, but felt as if I had been drugged. . . . 

I awoke about four in the morning and found my- 
self in unfamiliar, luxurious surroundings. For a few 
moments I could not understand where I was, and 
thought that I was dreaming. There was a strange 
man near me. He turned his face, and I recognized 
him as the Governor. I suddenly remembered every- 
thing. He made a motion to embrace me, but I cried 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 53 

out, jumped up, dressed myself hastily and ran from 
the house as if pursued. 

Day was just breaking. The town was still wrapped 
in sleep, and a low mist merged the city with the river. 
It was early autumn. There was peace everywhere 
but in my heart ; there, the elements were raging, and 
life grappled with death for supremacy. " What shall 
I say to Yasha ? What will our friends think of me ? 
A prostitute!" pierced my mind poignantly. "No, 
that must never happen. Death is my only escape." 

I wandered about the streets for a while, until I 
found a grocer's shop open, and I purchased there 
thirty kopek's worth of essence of vinegar. Entering 
my lodging, I was met by the question : 

" Where have you been ? Maria Leontievna, where 
did you sleep last night ? " My appearance in itself 
was enough to arouse suspicion. Without answering, 
I rushed into my room and locked the door. After 
offering my last prayers, I resolutely drank up all the 
poison, and was soon writhing in agony. 

At the same time, about ten in the morning, Yasha 
was released from prison and given five hundred roubles 
for the establishment of a butcher's shop. In high 
spirits, he made his way to my lodging, completely 
unaware of what had befallen me. It was only when 
he arrived at the house that he observed an unusual 
commotion. The door of my room had been broken in 
when my moans were heard. The poison had scorched 
my mouth and throat as if with a flame, and I was found 
unconscious on the floor, and only recovering my senses 
after I had been removed to the hospital. Around me 
stood Yasha, some nurses, and a physician who was 
pouring something down my throat. I could not speak, 
although I understood all that was going on in the room.^ 
I had lost so much blood, the doctor explained to Yasha, 



54 YASHKA 

in reply to his anxious questions, that my recovery was | 
very doubtful. " Only a person of unusually powerful 
constitution could emerge alive from such an ordeal," 
he added. 

For two weeks I hovered between life and death, 
.suffermg agonizing pains, writhing in breathless con- 
vulsions that choked my breathing. I was fed only on 
milk, introduced into my throat through a tube. For a 
month I was incapable of speech, at the end of which 
time I was out of danger, but I had to spend another 
month in the hospital before I regained my normal 
health. 

Yasha could not, at first, understand the reason for 
my act. The Governor was so kind, so generous. He 
had not only commuted his sentence, but had given 
us five hundred roubles for a shop. Could there be 
anything more noble ? He finally arrived at the 
conclusion that the trials of the last year had resulted 
in a temporary mental derangement, which was respon- 
sible for my attempt at suicide. I did not disillusion 
him, although I was tempted to do so whenever he 
praised the Governor. 

Upon leaving the hospital, we opened the butcher's 
shop and immediately began to do good business. For 
several months we led a peaceful life. Theuj one after- 
noon, the Governor suddenly called at our shop, ostensi- 
bly to inquire how we were prospering. He stretched 
out his hand to me, but I turned away. 

The Governor left, and Yasha raged at me for my 
inexplicable conduct. Had I gone mad ? I must have, 
to be capable of refusing to greet our benefactor, the 
kindest of men ! I was sullen and silent, but Yasha 
would not be satisfied. He demanded an explanation. 
There was nothing left for me to do but to make a 
clean breast of it, which I did. 



THE ROAD TO EXILE 55 

The truth was such a shock to him that it threw him 
into convulsions. He struck me with something and 
felled me to the floor. His face turned chalk-white, 
the veins stood out on his temples, and he was trembling 
all over. He seemed utterly prostrated by the horror of 
this nightmare. The Governor's liberality was now 
explained. The five hundred roubles, the commutation 
of his sentence, it had all been dearly paid for by his 
beloved. 

My attempted suicide now appeared to him in its 
true light. He would take vengeance. He would kill 
the Governor, he swore, yes, he would murder that most 
despicable of villains. I hugged his feet and begged 
him not to attempt to carry out his threat. He paid no 
heed to my prayers, and talked of the hollowness of 
his life if he did not avenge me. 

He set off on his fateful errand, all my efforts to bar 
his way having failed. When he appeared at the Gover- 
nor's office and requested an audience, giving his name, 
the clerks immediately suspected him of some sinister 
design. The secretary reported to the Governor that 
Buk, the butcher, desired an audience, but that his 
manner roused suspicion. The Governor ordered that 
he should be detained and searched. A long, sharp 
knife was found on him, and he was arrested, orders 
being given for his exile on the following day to Amga, 
a hamlet about one hundred and thirty miles from 
Yakutsk. I had only twenty-four hours to dispose of 
the shop, and was compelled to hand it over to a local 
political, with the understanding that he would pay 
us for it a few months later. 

It was Easter Eve, 1914, when we started out in a 
cart, driven by a Yakut, for Amga. The mud was the 
worst I have ever come across. The horses sank so 
deep, and the wheels of the vehicle stuck so often, that 



56 YASHKA 

frequently we had to alight and help in extricating them. 
We spent Easter Day in a native's hut on the road, 
in which children, women and animals lived together. 
There is always a fire in the centre of these huts, the 
smoke being allowed to escape through a hole in the 
roof. The cows were milked in the hut, and the filth 
was beyond words. After supping on some bread and 
a sort of tea, which was unfit for human consumption, 
we went to sleep. The following day we resumed our 
journey to Amga. 



^K i 



CHAPTER V 

ESCAPE FROM EXILE 

WE spent about six days on the road to Aniga. It 
was a town with a mixed population. Half of 
its homes were tiny cabins, built by Russian exiles, 
many of whom had married Yakut women, as the latter 
were physically attractive and were proud to be the 
wives of white men. The natives ill-treated their 
wives, and were lazy, so that the women usuall}^ laboured 
to support their families. Some of the Yakuts were 
very wealthy, owning as many as a thousand head of 
deer and cattle. Men, women and children alike dressed 
only in fur. They made their bread of a coarse flour, 
ground by hand. 

There were about fifteen political exiles in Amga. 
Five of these were university graduates, and one of 
them was Prince Alexander Gutemurov, who had been 
arrested eight years before, and had turned grey in 
exile. 

I was the first Russian woman to come to Amga, and 
the joy of the small colony of politicals knew no bounds. 
As the Yakut women never wash clothes, the filth in 
which the white men lived was unspeakable, and their 
unkempt appearance testified eloquently to the Cv>ndi- 
tions in which they lived. They were at the mercy of 
vermin, and offere little resistance to epidemics. Clean 
food, drinkable milk, could not be had at any price. 



58 YASHKA 

Money was cheap at Amga. The Prince, for instance, 
received a monthly allowance of one hundred roubles 
(about 10 guineas), but he could not get a bath for 
a thousand. 

I immediately took charge of the situation, and 
the small cabin which I rented at two roubles a month 
soon became the social centre of the colony. I had 
benches made as well as a table and a bed. I obtained 
flour at the general shop owned by Kariakin, who had 
been exiled there for a murder in 1904, and now did 
a very flourishing trade. I baked real Russian bread, 
cooked a regular Russian meal, and made Russian tea, 
inviting all the politicals to dinner. 

It was a feast fit for the Gods to them, and those of 
them who were single asked me to board them regularlyc 
I not only boarded them, but I washed and repaired 
their clothes as well. I had a hut turned into a bath- 
house, and it was not long before the politicals looked 
human again. My duties in the house demanded all 
my time and energy, but I was happy in being able to 
give help. The men regarded me as their mother, and 
never tired of praising me. 

I planted a garden, and sowed some grain, as land 
was given by the community for the asking, there being 
few settlers in spite of the natural riches of the. district. 
The rivers in Northern Siberia are full of fish, and there 
is no end to the wealth of timber. Less than 150 miles 
from us gold mines were being worked. On the strength 
of our having owned the butcher's shop in Yakutsk 
we were able to buy a horse on credit and also to borrow 
some money. 

My popularity with the politicals irritated Yasha. 
He grew jealous of their kindness, now suspecting one 
man of courting me and now another. As he had 
nothing ta do, he nursed his jealousies till they grew in 



ESCAPE FROM EXILt: 59 

his imagination. He took to playing cards, which is 
very popular with the Yakuts, who like to gamble. This 
led gradually to his becoming a confirmed gambler. 
He would leave home for some neighbouring Yakut 
settlement and frequently stay away for several days, 
spending all his time in gambling. Finally it became a 
habit with him. He would disappear, and reappear 
suddenly, only in different moods. 

When he had won he would return all smiles, with 
money jingling in his pockets, bringing me some presents, 
and displaying great generosity to all. But that 
was not the usual case. Most frequently he lost, and 
then he would come back home gloomy and dejected, 
nervous and irritable, ready to pick quarrels and give 
provocation. His temper was especially roused whenever 
he found some political in the house. Consumed by 
jealousy, he would taunt me, and not infrequently 
resort to blows. 

" Yasha, have you lost your senses ? " I would say. 
" Do you need some money ? You know I am always glad 
to help you out," and I would have resort to my small 
savings, knowing that he had lost his last penny. But 
that would not alleviate my suffering. It was with 
relief that I looked forward to his departures, and with 
apprehension that I saw him return. 

At the end of about three months, we obtained per- 
mission to visit Yakutsk for the purpose of collecting 
the money due to us for the butcher's shop, but the man 
to whom we had made over the business now denied 
that he owed us any money, claiming to have paid 
fully at the time of our exile to Amga. There was a 
violent quarrel, but no money. As I had surrendered 
the shop to him on trust, we could not substantiate our 
claims and oust him from his possession of the premises. 
There was nothing to be done but to return with empty 



60 YASHKA 

hands, with the burden of the debts we had incurred 
at Amga weighing heavily on our shoulders. I was 
faced with the dreary prospect of liard and continuous 
toil, in order to pay what we owed. 

One summer day a new party of exiles arrived at 
Amga. One of them was a young man of about twenty, 
Yasha took a fancy to him and proposed that he should 
remain in our house as my assistant. Knowing Yasha's 
jealousy I objected. 

" Yasha," I argued, " what are you doing ? You 
know how jealous you become when you find one of 
the colony in the house, and now you want me to keep 
this young man here, while you will be away most of ' | 
the time. You are only making trouble for me, I 
don't want him, I need no help. Please don't burden 
me with him." 

" Marusia," Yasha replied, tenderly, " I swear that 
I won't be jealous any more. I won't, dear. Forgive 
me for all the pain I have caused you." 

Yasha's words did not entirely pacify me, but he over- 
ruled my objections, promising to be reasonable in the 
future. The same afternoon a Yakut called for' him, 
and they left together to go to a gambling place. The 
young man remained with me. Nothing occurred the 
first day or two. Then, one night, I was awakened by 
the young man bending over me. I repelled him, appeal- 
ing to his sense of shame, but as he persisted in his 
advances, I struck him violently, jumped out of bed, 
and seizing a chair and shouting at the top of my voice, 
drove him out of the house. 

It was about one o'clock in the morning. Prince 
(iutcmurov was returning home from an evening with a 
friend and saw me drive the young man out into the 
night. The latter, however, harboured a deep feeling 
of vengeance against me. He resolved to await Yasha's 



ESCAPE FROM EXILE 61 

return, on the road outside the village, and tell him a 
false version of the story ! 

" A fine wife you have," he addressed Yasha, 
derisively, as soon as the latter appeared. 

" What do you mean ? " questioned Yasha excitedly. 
The young man replied that the night before I had come 
to him, but, being a loyal friend to Yasha, he drove 
me away and left the house with the purpose of meeting 
him and informing him of the incident. Yasha only 
had sufficient self-control to thunder out : 

" Swear, are you telling the truth ? " 

The young rascal answered : 

" Certainly it's the truth." 

When Yasha appeared on the threshold I observed 
immediately with horror that he was in a ferocious mood, 
but was suppressing his fury. That made him the more 
dangerous. He spoke slowly, picking his words deliber- 
ately, words which struck terror to my soul. 

" You are a faithless woman. You alwaj's have been 
faithless, deceiving me continually, but you are caught 
now, and you won't escape. It's fortunate that Dmitri 
is a decent young fellow and repelled your advances. 
You can say your last prayers, you base creature." 

While speaking thus Yasha proceeded in a cold, busi- 
ness-like, purposeful manner to make a noose to hang 
me. It was this calm about Yasha's actions, expressive 
of his terrible earnestness, that made me tremble all 
over. 

" Yasha, I am innocent, Yasha," I sobbed, throwing 
myself at his feet and kissing them. " I swear that I am 
innocent," I cried. " Have mercy ! think what you are 
doing ! I tell you I am innocent ! " 

Yasha went on with his preparations undisturbed. 

He attached the rope to a hook on the ceiling and 
tested the noose. 



62 YASHKA 

" Yasha, come to your senses," I implored, hugging 
his legs. 

He pushed me aside, pla,ced a stool under the rope 
and ordered me, in a terrible voice, to stand up on 
it. 

" Now say your last prayers," he repeated. 

He then placed the noose around my neck and jerked 
the stool from under my feet. In an instant it tightened 
about my throat, I wanted to cry out but could not, the 
pressure against the crown of my head was so terrific 
that it seemed about to crack open. Then I lost 
consciousness. 

As the noose was tightening around my neck Yasha 
came to himself and hastened to loosen it. I dropped, 
lifeless, to the floor. In response to his calls for help 
several politicals, among whom were a couple of medical 
students, came running to the house. They made every 
effort to revive me, succeeding only after long and 
persistent attempts. When I opened my eyes, the whole 
colony was at my bedside. Pressed for an explanation 
of his inhuman act Yasha told Dmitri^s story. 

Then Prince Gutemurov revealed what he had seen 
the previous night, on his way home. Yasha was over- 
whelmed. He fell on his knees and begged my forgive- 
ness, cursing Dmitri and promising to make short work 
of him. But Yasha could not find him. Dmitri learned 
of the disclosure and disappeared forever from Amga. 

Soon afterwards, another incident occurred which 
further embittered my life with Yasha. In his absence 
Vasili, a political, came and told me that the authorities 
were in receipt of an order to arrest and send him to 
Irkutsk to be tried on a new charge, which carried with it 
the death-sentence. It was a regular practice of the 
Tsar's government- to recall exiles for second trials on 
some additional bit of evidence. 



ESCAPE FROM EXILE 68 

Vasili asked me to lend him our horse, " Maltchik," 
to help him escape. Knowing how attached Yasha was 
to the horse, I refused Vasili's request But he persisted 
in imploring me, claiming that Prince Gutemurov had 
seen the order for the arrest, and that the sheriff was 
already on his tracks. 

" But how could the horse be returned ? " I asked 
Vasili, touched by his continuous pleading. He replied 
that he would leave it with a certain Yakut friend of 
ours, some hundred versts away, and I finally yielded, 
although not without misgivings. As soon as he left 
with " Maltchick " my anxiety grew into alarm. I hurried 
to Prince Gutemurov to verify Vasili's story. How 
thunder-struck I was upon learning from the Prince that 
he knew of no order to arrest Vasili, and that he had 
not even seen him. It was clear that I had been swindled 
and that I would never see the horse again. 

" My God 1 " I thought, " what will happen upon 
Yasha's return and his discovery that "Maltchik" is 
gone ? " 

The fear of death rose up before me, the impression 
of my recent escape from hanging still fresh in my 
mind. I trembled at the thought of Yasha, with the 
feeling of an entrapped animal seeking an escape. 
But there seemed to be no remedy. 

It was August, 1914. Rumours of the great conflict 
were just reaching the remote Siberian provinces. The 
order for mobilization came, and there was great 
excitement, even in the death-bound Arctic settlements, 
as if suddenly a new life had been infused into that land 
of monotony. Upon the heels of the call to arms came 
the Tsar's Manifesto, abolishing the scourge of our na- 
tional life — vodka, and with it a gigantic wave of popular 
enthusiasm, sweeping the steppes, valleys, and forests of 
vast Russia, from Petrograd and Moscow, across the 



64 YASHKA 

Ural mountains and Siberia, to the borders of China, and 
the Pacific coast. 

There was something sublime about the nation's 
response. Old men, who had fought in the Crimean 
War, in the Turkish Campaign of 1877-78, and The 
Russo-Japanese War, declared that they never saw 
such exaltation of irit. It was a glorious, inspiring, 
unforgettable moment in one's life. My soul was deeply 
stirred, and I had a dim realization of a new 
world coming to life, a purer, a happier and a holier 
world. 

And when Vasili robbed me of our horse, and I was 
filled with the dread of Yasha's fury, intensified by my 
helplessness in the face of this misfortune, the thought, 
" WAR ! " suddenly flashed into my mind. 

" Go to war to help save the country ! " a voice within 
me called. 

To leave Yasha for my personal comfort and safety 
was almost unthinkable. But to leave him for the field 
of junselfish sacrifice, that was a different matter. And 
the thought of going to war penetrated deeper and 
deeper into my whole being, giving me no rest. 

When Yasha returned, Prince Gutemurov and several 
other friends were in the house ready to defend me. He 
had already learned from the natives, on his way home, 
that Vasili had escaped on our horse. He could not 
believe that I would have given his favourite horse to 
anybody without his permission, and he therefore sus- 
pected that I had an intrigue with Vasili, and that I had 
despatched him to make preparations for an elopement. 
He made a violent scene, attacking me savagely, with 
showers of blows. My friends tore him away, which 
only infuriated him the more. This inability to give 
vent to his rage made him act like one demented. 

His temper was clearly becoming a danger, which 



ESCAPE FROM EXILE 66 

called for a remedy. A physician came to Amga only 
once a month. As Yasha considered himself in good 
health, there could be no question of suggesting to him 
that he should consult the physician. It was, therefore, 
agreed among my friends that Prince Gutemurov should 
take a walk about the village with the doctor when he 
arrived, pass by our house as if by ccident, and that I 
should greet them with an invitation to come in for tea. 
Everything went smoothly. The physician was intro- 
duced to Yashka and immediately remarked upon his 
pallor and his bloodshot eyes. 

" What ails you ? " he asked Yasha, " you seem to 
have fever. Let me examine you." 

The result of the examination was the advice to Yasha 
to go to a hospital for treatment, which he, of course, 
scoffed at. Privately, the doctor informed Prince Gute- 
murov that Yasha's nerves ha broken down and that he 
was dangerous to live with, as he might kill me for some 
trivial cause. The physician urged that I should leave 
him at once. But I hesitated. Another quarrel, 
however, was not long in coming. Yasha actually 
made another attempt to kill me, but was stopped 
by our comrades. The cup was full. I decided to 
escape. 

Day and night my imagination carried me to the fields 

of battle, and my ears rang with the groans of my 

wounded brethren. The impact of the mighty armies 

I was heard even in uncivilized northern Siberia. There 

were rumours in the air, rumours of victory and of 

defeat, and in low voices people talked of torrents of 

Iblood and of rivers of maimed humanity, streaming 

[back from the front, and already overflowing into the 

Jiberian plains. My heart yearned to be there, in the 

seething caldron of war, to be baptized in its fire and 

scorched in its lava. The spirit of sacrifice took posses- 

F 



666 YASHKA 

sion of me. My country called me. And an irresistible 
force from within impelled me. 

I only waited the opportunity when Yasha should be 
away for several days. It arrived one September day. 
Some Yakuts called for Yasha. As soon as he left I cut 
off my hair, dressed in men's clothes and provided myself 
with two loaves of bread. I had no money to speak of, 
as I took none of the colony into my confidence. 

It was evening when I stealthily hurried out of Amga 
and took the road to Yakutsk. I had before me a 
journey of over 130 miles. I ran at such a pace that 
night, since I could not expect to travel in the day-time 
without being recognized, that I covered thirty-three 
miles before dawn. 

Several times I met Yakuts, and answered their 
greetings in their native dialect, with which I had grown 
familiar. In the dark they must have taken me for a 
Yakut. Otherwise, the journey was uneventful. The 
road was dry, the weather calm, and only the stars lit 
my way, while the loud throbbing of my heart echoed 
my footsteps. 

When day broke I stopped beside a stream and 
breakfasted on bread and cold water. I then made a 
bed of twigs in a hole by the road, lay down, covered 
myself with branches and went to sleep for the day. 
awoke when evening came, offered my prayers to God, 
dined on some more bread and water, and resumed my 
journey. It took me six nights of walking to arrive 
at Yakutsk, living only on bread and water, and sleeping 
in hidden nooks by the road during the day. 

There was a new Governor in Yakutsk. Baron Krafi 
had gone to western Europe to join his wife at som< 
health resort, was stranded there after the outbreak o 
the war, and later died a prisoner in the hands of the 
enemy. The new Governor received me well, anc 



ESCAPE FROM EXILE 67 

granted my request to be sent home, to Tom.sk, at the 
expense of the Government. He even offered me a 
convoy for protection. 

My escape was a success, but my heart would not 
rejoice. The image of Yasha, stricken with grief, 
frantically searching for me, calling to me, rose before 
my eyes, and demanded an account from my conscience. 
Was it right, was it just, to leave poor Yasha all alone 
in forlorn Amga ? Had I not vowed to remain eternally 
faithful to him ? Was it not my bounden duty to stand 
by him to the end ? Should I not return to him, then 
and give up this wild fancy of going to war ? 

I hesitated. Was it not true, on the other hand, that 
Yasha had become a professional gambler ? Was not 
life with him a perilous adventure ? Devotion to Yasha, 
a voice within me argued, did not mean perishing with 
him, but an effort to save him. Indeed, to get Yasha 
out of that wilderness was an idea which suddenly gripped 
my imagination. And how could I ever expect to find 
a better opportunity to do so than by distinguishing 
myself in war and then petitioning the Tsar in his 
behalf ? 

So there I was again in the magic circle of war. I 
asked an acquaintance to write a letter for me to Yasha. 
Apologizing for my strange departure, I informed him 
that I was going to Tomsk to enlist as a soldier, leave 
for the front and win distinction for bravery, then petition 
the Tsar to pardon him, so as to enable us to resume our 
peaceful life in Stretinsk. 

It was a plan with which Destiny, which held no more 

peace for me, played havoc. The war was to continue 

|as many years as I had' expected it to last months, 

hrouding Russia in darkness, sowing revolution, bearing 

hunder and lightning in its wings, spreading famine and 

haos and seeds of a new world order. In those stormy 



68 



YASHKA 



years Yasha was to retreat to the far background of 
my life, then vanish altogether. But all my heart was 
with him that autumn day of 1914, when I turned my 
eyes toward the bleak north for the last time, as I 
boarded the barge that was to carry me to Irkutsk, 
thence to Tomsk, and thence to war. 



Part Two 

WAR 

CHAPTER VI 

I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 

I SPENT nearly two months travelling homeward 
from Yakutsk, by water, rail and foot. The war 
was everywhere. The barge on the Lena was filled 
with recruits. In Irkutsk the uniform was much in 
evidence, and every now and then a regiment of soldiers 
would march through the streets on the way to the 
station, arousing one's martial spirit. My convoy left 
me upon my arrival there, and I had to appeal to the 
authorities for funds to continue my journey. 

My heart was beating furiously when I reached Tomsk, 
after an absence of about six years. Tears dimmed my 
eyes as I walked the familiar streets. Here, in this two- 
storied house, I had first learned the fickleness of man's 
love. That was ten years ago, during the Russo-Japanese 
War, when I was only fifteen years old. There, in that 
lilapidated little shop, where I can see the figure of 
N^astasia Leontievna bent over the counter, I spent five 
rears of my early youth, waiting on customers, scrubbing 
loors, cooking, washing and sewing. That long appren- 
[iiceship, under the stem eyes of Nastasia Leontievna, 
^erved me in good stead in later years, I must admit. 

69 



70 YASHKA 

The smoking chimney yonder belongs to the house in 
which I was married, some eight years ago, only to gain 
experience at first hand of man's brutality. And here, 
in this basement, my father and mother have been dwell- 
ing for seventeen years. 

I swung open the door. My mother was baking bread 
and did not turn immediately. How old she had grown ! 
How bent her shoulders, how white her hair ! She turned 
her head and stared at me for a second. A lump rose 
in my throat, rendering me speechless. 

" Mania ! " she exclaimed, rushing toward me and 
locking me in her arms. 

We wept, kissed each other, and wept again. My 
mother offered prayers to the Holy Mother and swore 
that she would never let me leave her side again. The 
bread was almost burned to charcoal, having been for- 
gotten in the oven in the excitement of my return. My 
father came in, and he also was greatly aged. He greeted 
me tenderly, the years having softened the harshness of 
his nature. 

I paid some visits to old friends. Nastasia Leontievna 
was overjoyed to see me. The sister of Afanasi Botch- 
karev, my first husband, also welcomed me cordially, in 
spite of the fact that I had escaped from her brother. 
She realized well enough how brutal and rough he was. 
She told me that Afanasi had been called in the first 
draft, and that it was reported that he was among the 
first prisoners taken by the Germans. I have never 
heard of him again. 

I rested for about three days. The news from the front 
was exciting. Great battles were raging. Our soldiers 
were retreating in some places and advancing in others. 
I longed for wings to fly to their help. My heart yearned 
and ached. 

"Do you know what war is?" I asked myself.^? 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 71 

" It is no work for a woman. You must make sure before 
starting out, Marusia, that you won't disgrace yourself. 
Are you strong enough in spirit to face all the trials 
and dangers of this colossal war ? Are you strong 
enough in body to shed blood and endure the privations 
of war ? Are you firm enough at heart to withstand 
the temptations that will come to you, living among 
men ? Search your soul for a brave and truthful 
answer." 

And I found strength enough in me to answer " yes " 
to all these questions. I suppressed the hidden longing 
for Yasha in the depths of my being, and made the fate- 
ful decision. I would go to war and fight till death, or, if 
God preserved me, till the coming of peace. I would 
defend my country and help those unfortunate ones on 
the field of slaughter who had already made their sacri- 
fices for their country. 

It was November, 1914. With my heart steeled in 
the decision I had made, I resolutely approached the 
headquarters of the Twenty-fifth Reserve Battalion 
stationed in Tomsk. Upon entering a clerk asked me 
what I wanted. 

" To see the Commander," I replied. 

" What for ? " he inquired. 

" I want to enlist," I said. 

The man looked at me for a moment and burst out 
laughing. He called to the other clerks. " Here is a 
baba who wants to enlist ! " he announced jokingly, 
pointing at me. There followed a general uproar. 
" Ha ! ha ! ha ! " they chorused, forgetting their work 
for the moment. When the merriment subsided a little 
I repeated my request to see the Commander, and his 
adjutant came out. He must have been told that a 
woman had come to enlist, for he addressed me 
gaily : 



72 YASHKA 

'' What is your wish ? " 

" I want to enlist in the army, your Excellency," I 
answered. 

" To enlist, eh ? But you are a baba," he laughed. 
" The regulations do not permit us to enlist women. It is 
against the law." 

I insisted that I wanted to fight, and begged to see the 
Commander. The adjutant reported me to the Com- 
mander, who ordered that I should be shown in. 

With the adjutant laughing behind me, I blushed and 
became confused when brought before the Comnjandpr. 
He rebuked the adjutant and inquired what he could do 
for me. I repeated that I wanted to enlist and fight for 
the country. 

" It is very noble of you to have such a desire. But 
women are not allowed in the army," he said. " They 
are too weak. What could you, for instance, do in the 
front line ? Women are not made for war." 

" Your Excellency," I insisted, " God has given me 
strength, and I can defend my country as well as a man. 
I have asked myself before coming here whether I could 
endure the life of a soldier, and found that I could. 
Cannot you place me in your regiment ? " 

" My dear," the Commander declared gently, " how 
can I help you ? It is against the law. I have no 
authority to enlist a woman even if I wanted to. You 
can go to the rear, enlist as a Red Cross nurse or in some 
other auxiliary service." 

I rejected his proposal. I had heard so many rumours 
about the women in the rear that I had come to despist 
them. I therefore insisted on my determination to go to 
the front as a regular soldier. The Commander was 
deeply impressed by my obstinacy, and wanted to help 
me. He suggested that I shpuld send a telegram to the 
Tsar, telling him of my desire to defend the country, of my 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 73 

moral purpose, and beg him to grant me special permis- 
sion to enlist. 

The Commander promised to draw up the telegram 
himself, with a recommendation of his own, and to have 
it sent from his office. He warned me, however, to 
consider the matter again, to think of the hardships I 
should have to bear, of the soldiers' attitude toward me, 
and the universal ridicule that I should provoke. But 
I did not change my mind. The telegram was sent at 
my expense, costing eight roubles, which I obtained from 
my mother. 

When I disclosed to my family the nature of my visit 
to the Commander of the Twenty-fifth Battalion they 
burst into tears. My poor mother cried that her Mania 
must have gone out of her senses, that.it was an unheard- 
of, impossible thing. Who ever heard of a hdba going 
to war ? She would allow herself to be buried alive 
before letting me enlist. My father supported her. I 
was their only hope now, they said. They would be 
forced to starve and go begging, without my help. And 
the house was filled with sobs and lamentation, the two 
younger sisters and some neighbours joining in. 

My heart was rent in twain. It was a cruel, painful 
choice that I was called upon to make, a choice between 
my mother and my country. It had cost me so much 
to steel myself to that new life, and now, when I was 
seemingly near the goal, my long-suffering mother called 
upon me to give up this ideal that possessed me, for her 
sake. I was tormented and agonized by doubt. I 
realized that I must make a decision quickly, and, with 
a supreme effort and the help of God, I resolved that the 
call of my country came before the call of my mother. 

After some time had passed a soldier came to the 
house. 

" Is Maria Botchkareva here ? " he questioned. 



74 YASHKA 

He came from headquarters with the news that a 
telegram had arrived from the Tsar, authorizing the 
Commander to enhst me as a soldier, and that the 
Commander wanted to see me. 

My mother did not expect such an answer. She grew 
frantic. She cursed the Tsar with all her might, although 
she had always revered him as the Little Father. " What 
kind of a Tsar is he ? " she cried, "if he takes women 
to war ? He must have lost his senses. Who ever 
heard of a Tsar calling women to arms ? Hasn't he 
enough men ? Goodness knows, there are myriads of 
them in Mother Russia." 

She seized the Tsar's portrait on the wall, before which 
she had crossed herself every morning, and tore it to 
bits, stamping them on the floor, with imprecations and 
anathema on her lips. Never again would she pray for 
him, she declared. " No, never ! " 

The soldier's message had an opposite effect on me ; 
and I was in high spirits. Dressing in my best clothes, 
I went to see the Commander. Everybody at head- 
quarters seemed to know of the Tsar's telegram, smiles 
greeting me everywhere. The Commander congratulated 
me and read its text in a solemn voice, explaining that 
it was an extraordinary honour which the august Emperor 
had conferred on me, and that I must make myself 
worthy of it. I was so happy, so joyous, so excited. It 
was the most blissful moment of my life. 

The Commander called in his orderly and instructed 
him to obtain a full soldier's outfit for me. I received 
two complete undergarments made of coarse linen, two 
pairs of foot-rags, a laundry-bag, a pair of boots, one 
pair of trousers, a belt, a regulation blouse, a pair of 
epaulets, a cap with the insignia on it, two cartridge 
pockets and a rifle. My hair was clipped short. 

There was an outburst of laughter when I appeared in 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 75 

full military attire, as a regular soldier of the Fourth 
Company, Fifth Regiment. I was confused and some- 
what bewildered, being hardly able to recognize myself. 
The news of a woman recruit had preceded me at the 
barracks, and my arrival there was the signal for riotous 
mirth. I was surrounded on all sides by raw recruits 
who stared at me incredulously, but some were not satis- 
fied with mere staring, so rare a novelty was I to them. 
They wanted to make sure that their eyes were not 
deceived, so they proceeded to pinch me, jostle me and 
brush against me. 

" Nonsense, she isn't a fea&a," remarked one of them. 

" Indeed, she is," said another, pinching me. 

" She'll run like the devil at the first German shot," 
joked a third, provoking roars of laughter. 

" We'll make it so hot for her that she'll run before 
even getting to the front," threatened a fourth. 

Here the Commander of my company interfered, and 
the men dispersed. I was granted permission to take my 
things home before settling permanently at the barracks. 
I asked to be shown how to salute. On the way home 
I saluted every uniform in the same manner. Opening 
the door of the house, I halted on the threshold. My 
mother did not recognize me. 

" Maria Leontievna Botchkareva here ? " I asked 
sharply, in military fashion. Mother took me for some 
messenger from headquarters, and answered, " No." 

I threw myself on her neck. " Holy Mother, save 
me ! " she exclaimed. There were cries and tears which 
brought my father and little sister on the scene. My 
mother became hysterical. For the first time I saw my 
father weep, and again I was urged to come back to 
my senses and give up this crazy notion of serving in 
the army. The landlady and old Nastasia Leontievna 
were called to help dissuade me from my purpose. 



76 YASHKA 

" Think what the men will do to a solitary woman in 
their midst," they argued. " Why, they'll make a 
prostitute of you. They will kill you secretly, and nobody 
will ever find a trace of you. Only the other day they 
found the body of a woman along the railroad track, 
thrown out of a troop-train. You have always been such 
a sensible girl. What has come over you ? And what 
will become of your parents ? They are old and weak, 
and you are their only hope. They always said that 
when Marusia came back they would end their lives in 
peace. Now you are shortening their days, driving them 
to their graves in sorrow." 

For a little while I hesitated again. The fierce 
struggle in my bosom between the two conflicting calls 
was renewed. But I held by my decision, remaining 
deaf to all entreaty. Then my mother grew angry and, 
crying out at the top of her voice, she shouted : 

" You are no longer my daughter ! You have forfeited 
your mother's love." 

With a heavy heart I left the house for the barracks. 
The Commander of the Company did not expect me, and 
I had to explain to him why I could not pass that night 
at home. He assigned to me a place in the general 
sleeping-room ordering the men not to molest me. On 
my right and on my left were soldiers, and that first 
night in the company of men will ever stand out in my 
memory. I did not close my eyes once during the 
night. 

The men were, naturally, unaccustomed to such a 
strange creature as my self and took me for a woman of 
loose morals who had made her way into the ranks for the 
sake of carrying on her illicit trade. I was, therefore, 
compelled constantly to fight off intrusions from all sides. 
As soon as I made an effort to shut my eyes I would 
discover the arm of my left-hand-neighbour round my 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 77 

neck, and would restore it to its owner with a push. 
While keeping an eye on his movements, however, I 
offered an opportunity for my neighbour on the right 
to get too near to me, and I would savagely kick him in 
the side. All night long my nerves were taut and my 
fists busy. Toward dawn I was so exhausted that I 
nearly fell asleep, when I discovered a hand on my 
chest, and before the man realized my intention, I struck 
him in the face. I continued to rain blows till the bell 
rang at five o'clock, the hour for rising. 

Ten minutes were given us to dress and wash, tardiness 
being punished by a rebuke. At the end of ten minutes 
the ranks formed and every soldier's hands, ears 
and foot-rags were inspected. I was in such haste to be 
in time that I put my trousers on inside out, provoking 
roars of laughter. 

The day began with a prayer for the Tsar and country, 
following which every one of us received the daily 
allowance of two-and-a-half pounds of bread and a few 
cubes of sugar from our respective squad commanders. 
There were four squads to a company. Our breakfast 
consisted of bread and tea and lasted half an hour. 

At the mess I had an opportunity to get acquainted 
with some of the more sympathetic soldiers. There were 
ten volunteers in my company, and they were all stu- 
dents. After eating, there was roll-call. When the officer 
reached my name he read : " Botchkareva," to which I 
answered, " Aye." We were then taken out for instruc- 
tion, since the entire regiment had been formed only three 
days before. The first rule that the training officer 
tried to impress upon us was to pay attention, and to 
watch his movements and actions. Not all the recruits 
could do it easily. I prayed to God to enlighten me in 
the study of a soldier's duties. 

It was slow work to establish proper relations with the 



78 YASHKA 

men. The first few days I was such a nuisance to the 
Company Commander that he wished me to ask for dis- 
missal. He hinted as much on a couple of occasions, but 
I continued to mind my own business and never reported 
the annoyances I endured from the men. Gradually I 
won their respect and confidence. The small group of 
volunteers always defended me. As the Russian soldiers 
call each other by nick-names, one of the first questions 
put to me by my friends was what I would like to be 
called. 

" Call me Yashka," I said, and that name stuck to me 
ever after, saving my life on more than one occasion. 
There is so much in a name, and " Yashka " was the sort 
of name that appealed to the soldiers and always worked 
in my favour. In time it became the nickname of the 
regiment, but not before I had been tested by many 
additional trials and found to be a comrade, and not 
merely a woman, by the men. 

I was an apt student and learned almost to anticipate 
the orders of the instructor. When the day's duties 
were completed and the soldiers gathered into groups 
to while away an hour or two in games or story-telling, I 
was always asked to take part. I came to like the 
soldiers, who were good-natured fellows, and to enjoy 
their sports. The group which Yashka joined would 
usually prove the most popular in the barracks, and it 
was sufficient to secure my co-operation in some scheme 
to make it a success. 

There was little time for relaxation, however, as we 
went through an intensive training course of only three 
months before we were sent to the front. Once a week, 
every Sunday, I would leave the barracks and spend the 
day at home, my mother having reconciled herself to my 
enlistment. On holidays I would be visited by friends 
or relatives. On one such occasion my sister and her 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 79 

husband called. I had been detailed for guard duty in 
the barracks that day. While on such duty a soldier 
is forbidden to sit down or to engage in conversation. 
I was entertaining my visitors when the Company 
Commander passed. 

" Do you know the rules, Botchkareva ? " he asked. 

" Yes, your Excellency," I answered. 

" What are they ? " 

" A soldier on guard duty is not allowed to sit down or 
engage in conversation," I replied. He ordered me to 
stand for two hours at attention at the completion of 
my guard duty, which took twenty-four hours. Stand- 
ing at attention, in full military equipment, for two hours 
is a severe task, as one has to remain absolutely motion- 
less under the eyes of a guard, and yet it was a common 
punishment. 

During my training I was punished in this manner 
three times. The second time it was really not my fault. 
One night I recognized my squad commander in a 
soldier who annoyed me, and I dealt him as hard a blow 
as I would have given to any other man. In the morning 
he placed me at attention for two hours, claiming that he 
had accidentally brushed against me. 

At first there was some difficulty in arranging for my 
bathing. The bath-house was used by the men, and so 
I was allowed one day to visit a public bath-house. I 
thought it a good opportunity for some fun. I came 
into the women's room, fully dressed, and there was a 
tremendous uproar as soon as I appeared. I was taken 
for a man. However, the fun did not last long. In an 
instant I was attacked from all sides and only narrowly 
escaped serious injury by crying out that I was a woman. 

In the last month of our training we engaged in almost 
continuous rifle practice. I applied myself zealously to 
acquiring skill in handling a rifle and won an honourable 



80 , YASHKA 

mention for good marksmanship. This considerably 
enhanced my standing with the soldiers and strengthened 
our feeling of comradeship. 

Early in 1915 our regiment received orders to prepare 
to proceed to the front. We received a week's leave. 
The soldiers passed these last days in drink and revelry 
and gay parties. One evening a group of boys invited 
me to go along with them to a house of ill repute. 

" Be a soldier, Yashka," they urged me laughingly, 
scarcely expecting me to accept their invitation. 

A thought flashed through my mind. 

" I will go with them, and learn the soldier's life, so 
that I may understand his soul better." And I expressed 
my willingness to go. Perhaps curiosity had something 
to do with my decision. It was greeted with an explosion 
of mirth. Noisily we marched through the streets, singing 
and laughing, until we came to our destination. 

My knees began to tremble as the party was about to 
enter the house. I wanted to turn back and flee. But 
the soldiers would not let me. The idea of Yashka 
going with them to such a place took a strong hold on 
their imagination. Soldiers, before going to the front, 
were always welcome in the haunts of vice, as they spent 
their money freely. Our group was, therefore, promptly 
surrounded by the women of the place, and one of them, a 
very young and pretty girl, picked me out as her favourite 
to the boundless mirth of my companions. There was 
drinking, dancing and a great deal of noise. Nobody 
suspected my sex, not even my youthful sweetheart, who 
seated herself in my lap and exerted all her charms to 
entice me. She caressed me, embraced me and kissed me. 
I giggled, and my comrades gave vent to peals of laughter. 
Presently I was left alone with my charmer. 

Suddenly the door swung open and an officer entered. 
Soldiers were forbidden to leave their barracks after eight 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 81 

o'clock, and our party had slipped out in the dark when 
we were supposed to be asleep. 

" Of what regiment are you ? " the officer asked, 
abruptly, as I rose to salute. 

" The Fifth Reserve Regiment, your Excellency," I 
replied ruefully. 

While this was going on the boys in the other rooms 
were notified of the officer's presence and made their 
escape through windows and all available doors, leaving 
me to take care of myself. 

" How dare you leave your barracks ? " he thundered 
at me, " and frequent such places so late at night, I shall 
order you to the military prison for the night." And he 
commande me to report there immediately. 

It was my first acquaintance with the military gaol. 
It is not a very comfortable place to spend a night 
in. In the morning I was called before the prison 
commandant, who questioned me sternly. Finally, I 
could contain myself no longer and broke out into 
laughter. 

" It was all a mistake, your Excellency," I said. 

" A mistake, eh ? What the devil do you mean, a 
mistake ? I have a report here," he cried out angrily. 

" I am a woman, your Excellency," I laughed. 

" A woman ! " he roared, opening his eyes wide, and 
surveying me. In an instant he recognized the truth of 
my words. "What the devil!" he muttered. "A 
woman indeed : A woman in a soldier's uniform ! " 

*' I am Maria Botchkareva, of the Fifth Regiment," I 
explained. He had heard of me. 

" But what were you, a woman, doing in that place ? " 
he inquired. 

" I am a soldier, your Excellency, and I went along 
with some of my comrades to investigate for myself the 
places where the soldiers pass their time." 

G 



82 YASHKA 

He telephoned to the Commander of my regiment to 
inquire into my record and told him where and why I was 
detained. A titter ran through the offices when they 
learned of Yashka's adventure. The soldiers already 
knew from their comrades of the night's escapade, and 
with great difficulty suppressed their merriment, not 
wanting to attract the attention of the officers. But now 
there was a general outburst of laughter. When I arrived 
it reached such a pitch that men were actually rolling on 
the floor, holding their sides. I was punished by two 
hours at attention, the third and last time during my 
training. For a week afterwards the regiment talked 
about nothing but Yashka's adventure, nearly every 
soldier making a point of accosting me with the question : 
" Yashka, how did you like it there ? " 

The date of our departure was fixed. We received 
complete new outfits. I was permitted to go home to 
spend the last night, and it was a night of tears and sobs 
and longings. The three months I had spent in Tomsk 
as a soldier were, after all, remote from war. But now 
that I felt so near to that great experience, it awed me. I 
prayed to God to give me courage for the new trials that 
were before me, courage to live aijd die like a man. 

There was great excitement in the barracks the follow- 
ing morning. It was the last that we were to spend 
there. In complete marching equipment we marched 
to the Cathedral where we were sworn in again. There 
was a solemn service. The church was filled with people, 
and there was an enormous crowd outside. The Bishop 
addressed us. He spoke of how the country was attackedi 
by an enemy who sought to destroy Russia, and appealed' 
to us to defend gloriously the Tsar and the Motherland., 
He prayed for victory for our arms and blessed us. | 

A spiritual fervour was kindled in the men. We| 
were all so buoyant, so happy, so forgetful of our own^ 



I ENLIST BY THE GRACE OF THE TSAR 83 

lives and interests. The whole city poured out to accom- 
pany us to the station, and we were cheered and greeted 
all along the route. I had never yet seen a body of 
men in such high spirits as we were that February 
morning. Woe to the Germans that might have encoun- 
tered us that day. Such was Russia going to war in 
those first months of the struggle. Hundreds of regi- 
ments like our own were streaming from east, north and 
south to the battlefields. It was an inspiring, uplifting, 
unforgettable sight. 

My mother felt none of the exaltation with which I 
was filled. She walked along the street, beside my troop, 
weeping, appealing to the Holy Mother and all the saints 
of the Church, to save her daughter. 

" Wake up : Marusia," she cried, " What are you 
doing ? " But it was too late. The ardour of war 
possessed me entirely. Somewhere deep in my heart my 
beloved mother's wailings found an echo, but my eyes 
were dimmed with tears of joy. It was only when I 
bade my mother good-bye, hugging and kissing her for 
what she felt was the last time, and boarded the train, 
leaving her on the platform prostrate and frantic with 
grief, that my heart sank and I trembled from head to 
foot. My resolution was on the point of giving way 
when the train moved out of the station. 

I was going to war. 



CHAPTER VII 

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 

OUR train was composed of a number of vans and 
one passenger-car. These vans, in which the 
soldiers sleep, have two bunks on each side, and are 
called teplushkas. Thiere are no windows in a teplushka, 
as it is really only a converted luggage van. The 
passenger-car was occupied by the four officers of our 
regiment, including our new Company Commander, 
Grishaninov. He was a short, jolly fellow and soon won 
his men's love and loyalty. 

There was plenty of room to spare in. the passenger-car 
and the officers took it into their heads to invite me to 
share it with them. When the invitation came the sol- 
diers all shook their heads in disapproval. They suspected 
the motives of the officers and thought that Yashka 
would fare as well among them as among their superiors. 

" Botchkareva," said Commander Grishaninov, when 
I entered his car, " would you prefer to be stationed in 
this carriage ? There is plenty of room." 

" No, your Excellency," I replied, saluting. " I am a 
plain soldier, and it is my duty to travel as a soldier.", 

" Very well," declared the commander, chagrined. 
And I returned to my teplushka. 

" Yashka is back : Good fellow, Yashka ! " the men 
welcomed me enthusiastically, bestowing some strong 
epithets on the officers. They were immensely pleased at 

84 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 85 

the idea that Yashka preferred their company in a 
teplushka to that of the officers in a spacious passenger 
coach, and made a comfortable place for me in a 
corner. 

We were assigned to the Second Army then com- 
manded by General Gurko, with headquarters at Polotsk. 
It took us two weeks to get there from Tomsk. General 
Gurko reviewed us at Army Headquarters and compli- 
mented the commander upon the regiment's fitness. We 
were then assigned to the Fifth Corps. Before we 
started, the news spread that there was a woman in 
our regiment. Curiosity was at once aroused. Knots 
of soldiers gathered about my teplushka, peeping through 
the door and cracks in the sides to verify with their own 
eyes the incredible news. Then they would swear, 
emphasizing their words by spitting, to having witnessed 
the inexplicable phenomenon of a baba going to the 
trenches. The attention of some officers was attracted 
by the crowd, and they came up to find out what the 
excitement was about. They reported me to the 
Commandant of the station, who immediately sent for 
Colonel Grishaninov, demanding an explanation. But 
the Colonel could not satisfy the Commandant's doubts 
and was instructed not to send me with the men to the 
fighting line. 

" You can't go to the trenches, Botchkareva," my 
Commander addressed me upon his return from the 
Commandant. " The General won't allow it. He was 
very much concerned about you and could not 
understand how a woman could be a soldier." 

For a moment I was shocked. Then the happy 
thought occurred to me that no General had the authority 
to overrule an order of the Tsar. 

" Your Excellency ! " I exclaimed to Colonel Grishani- 
nov, " I was enUsted by the grace of the Tsar as a regular 



86 YASHKA 

soldier. You can look up His Majesty's telegram in my 
record." 

This settled the matter, and the Commandant with- 
drew his objections. We had to walk about thirteen 
miles to Corps Headquarters. The road was in a fright- 
ful condition, muddy and full of ruts. We were so 
tired at the end of seven miles that a rest was ordered. 
The soldiers, although they were tired out, made a dry 
seat for me with their overcoats. We then resumed our 
journey, arriving for supper at Headquarters, and were 
billeted for the night in a stable. We slept like the dead, 
on straw spread over the floor. 

General Valuyev was then Commander of the Fifth 
Corps. He reviewed us in the morning and was extremely 
satisfied, assigning us to the Seventh Division, which was 
situated some miles distant. The Commander of the 
Division, whose name was Walter, was of German blood 
and a thorough rascal. We were quartered, during the 
night, in the woods, behind the fighting line. 

In command of the reserves was . a Colonel named 
Stubendorf, also of German blood, but a decent and 
popular officer. When informed that a woman was in 
the ranks of the newly-arrived regiment, he was amazed ; 

" A woman ! " he cried out, " she can't be permitted to 
remain. This regiment is going into battle soon, and 
women were not made for war." 

There was a heated discussion between him and Com- 
mander Grishaninov, which ended in an order for my 
appearance before them. I was subjected to a searching 
inquiry and passed it well. Asked if I wanted to take- 
part in the fighting, I replied affirmatively. Muttering 
his astonishment Colonel Stubendorf allowed me to 
remain till he had looked into the matter further. 

A big battle was raging at this time on our section o|i 
the front. We were told to be ready for an order t$| 



My first experience of no MAN'S LAND 87 

move at any moment to the front line. Meanwhile, 
we were sheltered in dugouts. My company occupied 
ten of these, all bomb-proof, though not in first-class 
condition. They were cold and had no windows. As 
soon as day broke we busied ourselves with cutting 
windows, building fire-places, repairing the dilapidated 
ceilings of timber and sand, and general house-cleaning. 
The dugouts were constructed in rows, the companies 
of odd numbers being assigned to the row on the right, 
while those of even numbers went to the left. There 
were notice-boards along the road and each company 
had a sentinel on duty. 

Our position was five miles behind the first line of 
trenches. The booming of the guns could be heard in 
the distance. Streams of wounded, some in vehicles and 
others on foot, flowed along the road. We drilled during 
most of the second day under the inspection of Colonel 
Stubendorf. He must have kept a close eye on me, for 
at the end of the drilling he called me, praised my 
efficiency, and granted me permission to stay in the 
ranks. 

On the third day came the order to move to the trench 
lines. Through mud and under shell-fire we marched 
forward. It was still light when we arrived at the 
firing-line. We had two killed and five wounded. As 
the German positions were on a hill, they were enabled 
to observe all our movements. We were therefore 
instructed by field-telephones not to occupy the trenches 
till after dark. 

" So this is war," I thought. My pulse quickened, and 
I caught the spirit of excitement that pervaded the regi- 
ment. We were all expectant, as if in the presence of a 
solemn revelation. We were eager to get into the fray 
and to show the Germans what we, the soldiers of 
the Fifth Regiment, could do. Were we nervous ? 



88 YASHKA 

Undoubtedly. i3ut it was not the nervousness of coward- 
ice, rather was it the restlessness of young blood. Our 
hands were steady, our bayonets fixed. We exulted in 
our adventure. 

Night came. The Germans were discharging a volume 
of gas at us. Perhaps they noticed an unusual movement 
behind the lines, and wished to annihilate us before we 
entered the battle. But they failed. Over the wire 
came the order to put on our masks. Thus were we 
baptized in this most inhuman of all German war 
inventions. Our masks were not perfect. The deadly 
gas penetrated some and made our eyes smart and water. 
But we were soldiers of Mother Russia, whose sons are 
not unaccustomed to half-suffocating air, and we so 
withstood the irritating fumes. 

Midnight passed. The Commander went through our 
ranks to inform us that the hour had come to move into 
the trenches and that before dawn we should take the 
offensive. He addressed us with words of encourage- 
ment and was heartily cheered. The artillery had been 
thundering all night the fire growing more and more 
intense every hour. In single file we moved along a 
communication trench to the front line. Some of us were 
wounded, but we remained dauntless. All our fatigue 
seemed to have vanished. 

The front trench was a mere ditch, and as we lined up 
along it our shoulders touched. The positions of the 
enemy were less than three-quarters of a mile away, and 
the space between was filled with groans and swept by 
bullets. It was a scene full of horrors. Sometimes an 
enemy shell would land in the midst of our men, killing 
several and wounding more. We were sprinkled with the 
blood of our comrades and spattered by the mud. 

At two in the morning the Commander appeared in 
our midst. He seemed nervous. The other officers 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 89 

came with him and took their positions at the head of 
the men. With drawn swords they prepared to lead 
the charge. The Commander had a rifle. 

" Climb out ! " he shouted. 

I crossed myself. My heart was filled with grief for 
the bleeding men around me and stirred by a fierce desire 
for revenge upon the Germans. My mind was a kaleido- 
scope of many thoughts and visions. My mother, death, 
mutilation, various petty incidents of my life filled it. 
But there was no time for thinking. 

I climbed out with the rest of the men, to be met by 
a volley of machine-gun fire. For a moment there was 
confusion. So many of our number had fallen like ripe 
wheat cut down by a gigantic scythe wielded by the 
invisible arm of Satan himself. Fresh blood was dripping 
on the cold corpses that had lain there for hours or days, 
and the moans were heart-rending. 

Amid the confusion the voice of our Company Com- 
mander was raised. 

" Forward ! " 

And forward we went. The enemy had seen us go 
over the top, and he let loose Hell. As we ran forward 
we kept firing. Then the order came to lie down. The 
bombardment grew even more concentrated. Alter- 
nately running for some distance and then lying down, 
we reached the enemy's barbed wire entanglements. 
We had expected to find them demolished by our artillery, 
but, alas ! they were untouched ! There were only 
about seventy left of our Company of two hundred and 
fifty. 

Whose fault was it ? This was an offensive on a 
front of thirteen miles, carried out by three army corps. 
And the barbed wire was uncut ! Perhaps our artillery 
was defective ! Perhaps it was the fault of some one 
higher up ! Anyhow, there we were, seventy out of 



90 YASHKA 

two hundred and fifty. And every fraction of a 
second was precious. Were we doomed to die here in a 
heap without even coming to grips with the enemy ? 
Were our bodies to dangle on this wire to-morrow, and 
the day after, to provide food for the crows and strike 
terror into the hearts of the fresh soldiers who would 
take our places in a few hours ? 

As these thoughts flashed through our minds an order 
came to retreat. The enemy let a barrage down in front 
of us. The retreat was even worse than the advance. 
Only forty-eight of our Company got back to our 
trenches alive. About a third of the two hundred and 
fifty were dead. The greater number of the wounded 
were in No Man's Land and their cries of pain and prayers 
for help or death gave us no peace. 

The remnant of our Company crouched in the trench, 
exhausted, dazed, incredulous of their escape from 
injury. We were hungry and thirsty and would have 
welcomed a dry and safe place in which to recover our- 
selves. But there we were, smarting under the defeat by 
the enemy's barbed wire barrier, with the heart-breaking 
appeals for help coming from our comrades. Deeper 
and deeper they cut into my soul. They were so 
plaintive, like the voices of hurt children. 

In the dark it seemed to me that I saw their faces, the 
familiar faces of Ivan and Peter and Sergei and Mitia, 
the good fellows who had taken such tender care of me, 
making a comfortable place for me in that crowded 
teplushka, or taking off their overcoats in cold weather 
and spreading them on the muddy road to provide a 
dry seat for Yashka. They called me. I could sec 
their hands outstretched in my direction, their wide- 
open eyes straining in the night in the hope of rescue, 
the deathly pallor of their faces. Could I remain 
indifferent to their cries ? Was it not my bounden 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 91 

duty as a soldier, a duty as important as that of fighting 
the enemy, to render aid to stricken comrades ? 

I climbed out of the trench and crawled under our wire 
entanglements. There was a comparative calm, inter- 
rupted only by occasional rifle shots, when I would lie 
down and remain motionless, as though I were a corpse. 
There were wounded within a few feet of our line. 1 
carried them one by one to the edge of our trench where 
they were picked up and carried to the rear. The 
saving of one man encouraged me to continue my efforts 
till I reached the far side of the field. Here I had several 
narrow escapes. A sound, made accidentally, was suffi- 
cient to attract several shots, and I only saved myself 
by at once lying flat upon the ground. When dawn 
broke in the East, putting an end to my expeditions 
through No Man's Land, I had saved about fifty lives. 

I had no idea at the time of what I had accomplished. 
But when the soldiers whom I had picked up were 
brought to the relief- station and asked who rescued them, 
about fifty replied, " Yashka." This was communicated 
to the Commander, who recommended me for an Order 
of the 4th Degree, " for distinguished valour shown in 
the saving of many lives under fire." 

Our kitchen had been destroyed the previous night by 
the enemy's fire, and we were very hungry. Our ranks 
were replenished by fresh drafts, and our artillery again 
boomed all day, playing havoc with the enemy's wire 
fences. We guessed that it meant another order to 
advance the following night, and our expectations proved 
correct. At about the same hour as the previous 
morning we climbed out and started to run towards the 
enemy's position. Again a rain of shells and bullets, 
again scores of wounded and killed, again smoke and 
gas and blood and mud. But we reached the wire 
entanglement and it was down and torn to pieces 



92 YASHKA 

this time. We halted for an instant, emitting an 
inhuman " Hurrah ! Hurrah ! that struck terror into 
those Germans that were still alive in their half-demol- 
ished trenches, and with fixed bayonets rushed forward 
and jumped into them. 

As I was about to descend into the ditch I suddenly 
observed a huge German taking aim at me. Hardly 
did I have time to fire when something struck my right 
leg, and I had a sensation of a warm liquid trickling 
down my flesh. I fell. My comrades had put the enemy 
to flight and were pursuing him. There were many 
wounded, and cries of " Save me, Holy Jesus ! " came 
from every direction. 

I suffered little pain and made several efforts to get up 
and reach our trenches. But every time I failed. I was 
too weak. There I lay in the darkness of the night, 
within fifty feet of what had been, twenty-four hours be- 
fore, the enemy's position, waiting for dawn and relief. 
To be sure, I was not alone. Hundreds, thousands of 
gallant comrades were scattered on the field for miles. 

It was four hours after I was wounded before day 
arrived and with it our stretcher-bearers. I was picked 
up and carried to a first-aid station a mile and a half 
in the rear. My wound was bandaged, and I was sent 
on to the Division Hospital. There I was placed on a 
hospital train and taken to Kiev. 

It was about Easter of 1915 when I arrived in Kiev. 
The station there was so crowded with wounded from 
the front that hundreds of stretchers could not be accom- 
modated inside and were lined up in rows on the platform; 
outside. I was picked up by an ambulance and taken 
to the Eugene Lazaret, where I was kept in the same 
ward with the men. Of course, it was a military hospital, 
and there was no woman's ward. 

I was there aU through the spring of 1915. The nurses 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 93 

and physicians took good care of all the patients in the 
hospital. My swollen leg was restored to its normal 
condition, and it was a restful two months that I passed 
in Kiev. At the end of that period I was taken before a 
military medical commission, examined, pronounced in 
good health, provided with a ticket, money and a certi- 
ficate and sent to the front again. 

My route now lay through Molodechno, an important 
railway terminus. When I arrived there in the early 
part of July I was sent to the Corps Headquarters by 
wagon, and thence I proceeded on foot to my Regiment. 

My heart throbbed with joy as I drew nearer to the 
front. I had been eager to get back to my comrades. 
They had endeared themselves to me so much that I 
loved my Company as much as my own mother. I 
thought of the comrades whose lives I had saved and 
wondered how many of them had returned to the fighting 
line. I thought of the soldiers whom I had left alive 
and wondered if they were still among the living. Many 
familiar scenes came up in my imagination as I marched 
along under the brilliant rays of the sun. 

As I approached the regimental headquarters a soldier 
saw me in the distance and, turning to his comrade, he 
pointed towards me. 

" Who can that be ? " he asked, thoughtfully. The 
partner scratched his neck and said : 

" Why, he looks familiar." 

" Why, it's Yashka ! " exclaimed the first, as I moved 
nearer. " Yashka ! Yashka ! " they shouted at the top 
of their voices, running toward me as fast as they could. 

" Yashka is back ! Yashka is back ! " the news was 
passed along to men and officers alike. There was such 
spontaneous j oy that I was overwhelmed . Our regiment 
was then in reserve, and soon I was surrounded by hun- 
dreds of old friends. There was kissing, embracing, 



94 YASHKA 

handshaking. The men capered about like children, 
shouting, " Look who's here ! Yashka ! " They had been 
under the impression that I was disabled and would never 
return. They congratulated me upon my recovery. 
Even the officers came out to shake hands with me, some 
even kissing me, and all expressing their gratification at 
my recovery. 

I shall never forget the welcome I received from my 
comrades. 

They carried me on their shoulders, shouting, " Hurrah 
for Yashka ! Three cheers for Yashka ! " Many of 
them wanted me to visit their dugouts and share with 
them the food parcels they had received from home. The 
dugouts were really in a splendid state, clean, furnished, 
well protected. I was reassigned to my old company, the 
Thirteenth, and was now considered a veteran. 

Our company was shortly detailed to act as the pro- 
tecting force to a battery of artillery. Such duty was 
regarded by the men as a holiday, for it made possible 
a genuine rest in healthful surroundings. We spent 
between two and three weeks with the battery and were 
then moved to Sloboda, a town in the vicinity of Lake 
Narotch, about twenty-seven miles from Molodechno. 
Our positions were in a swampy region, full of mud-holes 
and marshes. It was impossible to construct and 
maintain regular trenches there. We, therefore, built a 
barrier of sand-bags, behind which we crouched, knee- 
deep in water. It was impossible to endure such condi- 
tions for any length of time. We were compelled to 
snatch brief intervals of sleep standing, and even the 
strongest constitutions quickly broke down. We were 
relieved at the end of six days and sent to the rear to 
recuperate. Then we had to relieve the men who had 
taken our places. 

Thus we continued to hold the line. As the summer 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 95 

neared its end and the rains increased, the water would 
rise and at times reach our waists. It was important to 
maintain our front intact, although for several miles the 
ground was so boggy as to be practically impassable. 
The Germans, however, made an attempt in August to 
outflank the marshes, but they failed. 

Later we were shifted to another position, some dis- 
tance away. There was comparative quiet on our front. 
Our main work consisted in sending out raiding parties 
and keeping a keen watch over the enemy's movements 
from our advanced listening-posts. We slept in the 
morning and stayed wide-awake all night. 

I was assigned to numerous observation parties. 
Usually four of us would be detailed to a listening-post, 
located sometimes in a bush, another time in a hole in 
the ground, behind the stump of a tree, or some similar 
obstacle. We crawled to our post so noiselessly that not 
only the enemy but even our own men would not know 
our hiding places, which were on an average fifty feet 
apart. Once at the post, our safety and duty demanded 
absolute immobility and caution. We had to strain 
our ears to catch any unusual sound, and communicate 
it from post to post. Besides, there was always a chance 
of an enemy patrol or post being in close proximity 
without our knowing it. Every two hours the holders of 
the posts were relieved. 

One foggy night, while on guard at a listening post, I 
detected a dull noise. It sounded like a raiding party, 
and I took it at first for our own, but there was no answer 
to my sharp query for the pass-word. It was impossible 
to see in the mist. We opened fire, and the Germans 
flattened themselves on the ground and waited. 

There they lay for almost two hours, until we had 
forgotten the incident. Then they crawled toward our 
post and suddenly appeared in front of us. There were 



96 YASHKA 

eight of them. One threw a grenade, but missed our 
hole, and it exploded behind us. We fired, killing two 
and wounding four. The remaining two escaped. 

When the Company Commander received an order to 
send out a scouting party, he would call for volunteers. 
Armed with hand-grenades, about thirty of the best 
soldiers would go out into No Man's Land to test the 
enemy's strength by drawing his fire, or to alarm him 
by heavy bombing and shooting. Not infrequently 
scouting parties from both sides would meet. Then there 
would be a regular battle. It sometimes happened that 
one party would let an enemy party pass in front, and 
then attack it from the rear and capture it. 

The fifteenth of August, 1915, was a memorable day in 
our lives. The enemy opened a violent fire at us at 
three o'clock in the morning, demolishing our barbed- 
wire defences, destroying some of our trenches, and 
burying many soldiers alive. Many others were killed by 
enemy shells. Altogether we lost fifteen killed and forty 
wounded out of two hundred and fifty. It was clear 
that the Germans contemplated an ' offensive. Our 
artillery replied vigorously, and the earth shook with 
the thunder of the guns. We sought every protection 
available, our nerves strained in momentary anticipation 
of an attack. We crossed ourselves, prayed to God, 
made ready our rifles, and awaited orders. 

At six o'clock the Germans were observed climbing over 
the top and running in our direction. Closer and closer 
they came, and still we made no move, while our artillery 
rained shells on them. When they approached within 
a hundred feet of our line we received the order to open 
fire, and we greeted the enemy with such a concentrated 
hail of bullets, that his ranks were decimated and plunged 
in confusion. We took advantage of the situation and 
rushed at the Germans, turning them back and pursuing 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 97 

them along the twelve-mile front on which they had 
started to advance. The enemy lost ten thousand men 
that morning. 

During the day we received reinforcements, and also 
new equipment, including gas masks. Then word came 
that we were to take the offensive the following night. 
Our guns began a terrific bombardment of the German 
positions at six in the evening. We were all in a state of 
suppressed excitement. Men and officers mixed together, 
joking about death. Many expected not to return and 
wrote letters to their dear ones. Others prayed. Before 
an offensive the men's camaraderie would reach its 
height. There would be affectionate partings, sincere 
professions by some of their premonitions of death and 
the sending of messages to friends. Universal joy was 
displayed whenever a shell of ours tore a gap in the 
enemy's wire defences or fell into the midst of his 
trenches. 

At three in the morning the order, " Advance ! " rang 
out. In high spirits we started for the enemy's posi- 
tions. Our casualties on the way were enormous. 
Several times we were ordered to lie down. Our first 
line was almost completely wiped out, but its ranks were 
filled up by men from the second row. On we went till 
we reached the Germans and overwhelmed them. Our 
own Polotsk Regiment alone captured two thousand 
prisoners and our jubilation was boundless. We held the 
enemy's positions, and No Man's Land, strewn with 
wounded and dead, was now ours. There were few 
stretcher-bearers available, and a call went out for 
volunteers to gather in the wounded. I was among those 
who answered the call. 

There is great satisfaction in helping a suffering human 
being. There is great reward in the gratitude of a man 
tortured with suffering whom one has saved. It gave me 

H 



98 YASHKA 

immense joy to be able lu maintain the lile in an mi- 
conscious Imman body. As I was kneeling over one such 
womided man, who had suffered a great loss of blood, and 
was about to lift him, a sniper's bullet hit me between the 
thumb and forefinger and passed on and through the 
flesh of my left forearm. Fortunately I realized quickly 
the nature of the wounds, bandaged them, and, in spite 
of his protests, carried the bleeding man out of danger. 

I continued my work all night, and was recommended 
to receive the Cross of St. George of the 4th Degree, 
" for bravery in defensive and offensive fighting and for 
rendering, while wounded, first aid on the field of battle." 
But I never received it. Instead, I was awarded a medal 
of the 4th Degree and was informed that a woman could 
not obtain the Cross of St. George. 

I was disappointed and chagrined. Hadn't I heard 
of the Cross being given to some Red Cross nurses ? I 
protested to the Commander. He fully sympathized 
with me and expressed his belief that I certainly deserved 
the Cross. 

"But," he added, disdainfully, shrugging his shoulders, 
" it is natchalstvo (officialdom)." 

My arm was painful, and I could not remain in the 
front line. The medical assistant of our regimental ;i; 
hospital had been severely wounded, and I was sent to . 
act in his place, under the supervision of the physician. 
I stayed there two weeks, till my arm improved, and li 
attained such proficiency under the Doctor's instructions 
that he issued a certificate to me, stating that I could 
temporarily perform the duties of a medical assistant. 

The autumn of 1915 passed, for us, uneventfully. Our 
life become one of routine. At night we kept watch, 
warming ourselves with hot tea, boiled on little stoves in 
the front trenches. At dawn we would go to sleep, and 
at nine in the morning the day would begin for some of us, 



MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF NO MAN'S LAND 90 

as that was the hour for the distribution of bread and 
sugar. Every soldier received a ration of two and a half 
pounds of bread daily. It was often burned on the out- 
side and not done on the inside. At eleven o'clock, when 
dinner arrived, everybody was awake, cleaning rifles and 
generally setting things in order. The kitchen was 
always some distance in the rear, and some of the men 
were sent to bring the dinner pails to the trenches. 
The dinner generally consisted of a hot cabbage soup, 
with some meat in it. The meat was often bad. The 
second dish was always kasha, Russia's popular gruel. 
Our daily ration of sugar was supposed to be three- 
sixteenths of a pound. By the time our dinner got to 
us it was cold, so that tea was resorted to again. After 
noon we received our orders, and at six in the evening 
supper arrived, this being the last meal, and consisting 
only of one course. It was either cabbage soup or 
kasha or half a herring, with bread. Many ate all their 
bread before the supper hour, or if they were very 
hungry, with the first meal, and were thus forced to 
beg for morsels from their comrades, or go hungry in the 
evening. 

Every twelve days we were relieved and sent to the 
rear for a six-days' rest. There we found ready for us 
the baths established by the Union of Zemstvos which 
in 1915 had extended its activities along the whole front. 
Every Divisional bath was in charge of a physician and 
a hundred voluntary workers. Every bath-house was 
also a laundry, and the men, upon entering it, left their 
dirty underwear there, receiving in exchange clean linen. 
When a company was about to leave the trenches for the 
rear, word was sent to the bath-house of its coming. 
There was nothing that the soldiers welcomed so much 
as the bath-house, so vermin-infested were the trenches, 
and so great was their suffering on this account. 






100 YASHKA 

I suffered more than anybody else from the vermin. 
I could not think at first of going to the bath-house with 
the men. My skin was eaten through and through and 
scabs began to form all over my body. I went to the 
Commander to inquire how I could get a bath, telling 
him of my condition. The Commander listened with 
sympathy. 

" But what can I do, Yashka ? " he said. " I can't 
keep the whole Company out to let you alone make use 
of the bath-house. Go with the men. They respect 
you so much that I am sure they won't molest you." 

I could not quite make up my mind at first. But 
the vermin gave me no rest, and I was nearing despera- 
tion. When we were relieved next and the boys were 
getting ready to march to the bath-house I plucked up 
courage and went up to my sergeant, declaring : 

" I'll go to the bath-house, too. I can't endure it any 
longer." 

He approved of my decision, and I followed the com- J 
pany, arousing general merriment. ',' Oh, Yashka is 
going with us to the bath-house ! " the men joked good- 
naturedly. Once inside, I hastened to occupy a corner 
for myself and begged the men to keep away from it. 
They did, although they continued to laugh and poke fun 
at me. I was very ill at ease the first time, and as 
soon as I had finished my bath, I hastily put on my new 
underwear, dressed with all speed and ran out of t]i< 
building. But the bath did me so much good that I 
made it a habit to attend it with the Company every two 
weeks. In time, the soldiers got so accustomed to it 
that they paid no attention to me, and were even quick 
to silence the jests of any new member of the Company. 



CHAPTER VIII 

WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 

TOWARDS winter we were moved to a place called 
Zelenoye Polie. There I was placed in command 
of twelve stretcher-bearers and served in the capacity of 
medical assistant for six weeks, during which I had charge 
of the sending of men who were ill to the hospital and of 
granting a few days' rest from duty to those who needed 
it. 

Our positions ran through an abandoned country 
estate. The house lay between the lines. We were on 
the top of the hill, while the Germans occupied the low 
ground. We could, therefore, observe their movements 
and they, in turn, could watch us. If any on either 
side raised his head he became the mark of some sniper. 

It was in this place that our men fell victims to a 
superior officer's treason. There had been plenty of 
rumours in the trenches of pro-German officials in the 
army and at Court. We had our suspicions, too, and 
now they were confirmed in a shocking manner. 

General Walter paid a visit to the front line. He was 
known to be of German blood, and his harsh treatment 
of the soldiers won for him the cordial hatred of the 
rank and file. The General, accompanied by a consider- 
able suite of officers and men, exposed himself completely 
on his tour of inspection of our trenches without attract- 
ing a single enemy bullet ! It was unthinkable to us who 
had to crawl on our bellies to obtain some water. And 

101 



102 YASHKA 

here was this General in open view of the enemy and yet 
they preserved this strange silence. 

The General acted in an odd fashion. He would stop 
at points where the barbed wire was torn open or where 
the fortifications were weak and wipe his face with his 
handkerchief, ^here was a general murmur among the 
men. The word " treason ! " was uttered by many lips 
in suppressed tones. The officers were indignant and 
called the General's attention to the unnecessary danger 
to which he exposed himself. But the General ignored 
their warnings, remarking, " Nitchevo!" (That's nothing). 

The discipline was so rigorous that no one dared to 
argue the matter with the General. The officers cursed 
when he left. The men muttered : 

" He is selling us to the enemy ! " 

Half an hour after his departure the Germans opened 
a tremendous fire. It was particularly directed against 
those points at which the General had stopped, reducing 
their faulty defences to ruins. We thought at first 
that the enemy intended to launch an offensive, but our 
expectations were not realized. He merely continued 
his violent bombardment, wounding and burying alive 
hundreds of men. The cries of the men were such that 
the work of rescue could not be delayed. While the 
shelling was still going on I took charge and dressed some 
hundred and fifty wounds. If General Walter had 
appeared in our midst at that moment the men would 
never have let him get away alive, so intense was their 
feeling. 

For two weeks we worked at the reconstruction of our 
demolished trenches and altogether extracted about five 
hundred corpses. I was recommended for and received 
a gold medal of the 2nd Degree for "saving wounded from 
the trenches under violent fire." Usually a medical 
assistant received a medal of the 4th Degree, but I was 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 103 

given one of the 2nd Degree because of the special 
conditions under which I had done my work. 

We were then relieved for a month and sent ten miles 
to the rear, to the village of Senky, on a stream called 
Uzlianka. An artillery base was located there, and 
when we finally reached our destination, our life was 
easier. But getting there was no easy task, for the road 
was in a frightful condition. We were utterly exhausted, 
and most of us fell asleep without even eating the supper 
that had been prepared for us. 

There was no work for a medical assistant in the rear, 
and besides my arm had fully recovered, so I applied to 
the Commander for permission to return to the ranks. 
He granted it, promoting me to the rank of Corporal, 
which placed me in charge of eleven men. 

Here I received two letters, one from Yasha, in reply 
to mine, written from Yakutsk, in which I spoke of 
returning l^o him at the conclusion of the war. I sent 
a letter in answer to his repeating my promise, on condi- 
tion that he would change his behaviour towards me 
and treat me with consideration and love. The other 
letter was from home. My mother wanted me to come 
back, telling me of her hardships and sufferings. 

It was October. This month, spent at the artillery 
base, was a merry one. We were billeted in the village 
huts, and engaged almost daily in sports and games. 
It was here that I was first taught how to sign my 
name and copy the alphabet, I had learned to read 
previously, Yasha having been my first teacher. The 
literature that was allowed to circulate at the front 
was largely made up of lurid detective stories, and the 
name of " Nick Carter " w^as not unfamiliar even to me. 

There were other amusements, also. I remember one 
day, during a downpour of rain, I sought shelter in a 
barn, where I found about forty officers and men, who 



104 YASHKA 

were also sheltering there from the rain. The owner 
of the barn, a middle-aged baba, was there with her cow. 
I was in a mischievous mood and began to flirt with her, 
to the general merriment of the men. I paid her some 
flattering compliments and declared that she had 
captivated me. The woman did not recognize my sex 
and professed to be insulted. Encouraged by the uproar 
• of the men, I persisted in my advances, and finally made 
an attempt to kiss her. The baba, infuriated by the 
laughter of the soldiers, seized a large piece of firewood, 
and with curses, threatened me and the men. 

*' Get out of here, you tormentors of a poor baba ! " 
she cried. 

I did not want to provoke a fight and cried to her : 

" Why, you foolish woman, I am a peasant girl 
myself." 

This only further inflamed our hostess. She took it 
for more ridicule and became more menacing. The 
officers and soldiers interfered, trying to persuade her of 
the truth of my words, as none of us Avanted to be put 
out into the rain. However, it required more than words 
to convince her, so I was compelled to unbutton my coat. 

" Holy Jesus ! " the woman crossed herself. " A baba, 
indeed." And immediately her heart softened, and her 
tone changed into one of tenderness. She burst into 
tears. Her husband and son were in the army, she told 
me, and she hadn't heard from them for a long time. 
She gathered me into her arms, and gave me food and 
some milk, inquiring about my mother and mourning 
over her lot. We parted affectionately, and she followed 
me with her blessings. 

It was snowing when we returned to the front line. 
Our position was now at Ferdinandovi Nos, between 
Lake Narotch and Baranovitchi. The first night tlie 
Commander of the Company issued a call for thirty 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 105 

volunteers to go scouting and investigate the strength 
and position of the enemy. I was among the thirty. 

We started out in single file, moving forward stealthily 
and as noiselessly as possible. We passed by some 
woods, in which an enemy patrol had hidden upon hearing 
the crackling of the snow beneath some of our soldiers' 
boots. We crawled on to the enemy trenches and lay 
in front of his barbed wire. Our chests were flattened 
against the snow-drifts. We were rather uneasy, as our 
presence seemed strangely unnoticed. Our officer. Lieu- 
tenant Borbo V, a former school teacher, but a fighting man 
of the first order, suddenly caught a noise in our rear. 

" There is something happening," he whispered to us. 

We strained our ears, but we had scarcely had time to 
look round when we found ourselves surrounded by an 
enemy force, larger than our own. It was too late to 
shoot. We resorted to our bayonets, and it was a brief 
but savage fight. 

I found myself confronted by a German, who towered 
far above me. There was not an instant to lose. Life 
or death hung in the balance. 

I rushed at the German before he had time to move 
and ran him through the stomach with the bayonet. 
The bayonet stuck, and the man fell. A stream of blood 
gushed forth. I made an effort to pull out the bayonet, 
but failed. It was the first man that I had bayoneted ; 
and it all happened with lightning-speed. 

I fled toward our trenches, pursued by a German, 
falling several times, but always rising again and pressing 
on. Our wire entanglements were in a zig-zag, and I 
had difficulty in finding our positions. My situation 
was getting critical, when I discovered that I had some 
hand grenades with me. I threw them at my pursuer, 
falling to the ground to avoid the shock of the explosion, 
and at length I reached our trenches. 



106 YASHKA 

Only ten of our party of thirty returned. The Com- 
mander thanked me personally, expressing his astonish- 
ment that I should have been able to bayonet a German. 
Deep in my soul I also wondered. 

The year 1915 was nearing its end. The winter 
was severe, and life in the trenehes almost unbearable. 
Death was a weleome visitor. Even more welcome was 
a wound that enabled one to be sent to hospital. There 
were many cases of men snowed under and frozen to 
death. There were many more cases of frozen feet that 
had to be amputated. Our equipment was getting very 
deficient. Our supply organization was already breaking 
down. It was difficult to replace a worn pair of boots. 
Not infrequently something went wrong in the kitchen, 
and we were forced to suffer hunger as well as cold. 
But we were patient, like true children of Mother Russia. 
It was dreadfully monotonous, this inactivity, this mere 
holding of frozen ditches. We longed for battles, for 
one mighty battle, to win the victory and end the war. 

One bitter night I was detailed to a listening post with 
three men. My boots were worn out. One has to keep 
absolutely still while on such duty. A movement may 
mean death. So there we lay on the white ground, 
exposed to the attacks of King Frost. He went about 
his work without delay, and thoroughly. My right foot 
was undergoing strange sensations. It began to freeze. 
I longed to sit up and rub it. But sitting up was not to 
be thought of. Was that a noise ? I ceased to trouble 
about my foot ; I had to strain all my nerves to catch 
that peculiar sound. Or was it a mere freak of the wind ? 
ISIy foot grew numb. It v/as going to sleep. 

" Holy Mother, what's to be done ? " I thought to 
myself. " My right foot is gone. The feet of the other 
three men are freezing, too. They just whispered that to 
me. If only the Commander would relieve us now ! 
But the two hours are not yet up." 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 107 

Suddenly we perceived two figures in white crawling 
toward us, Germans provided with appropriate costumes 
for a deadly mission. We fired, and they replied. A 
bullet pierced my coat, just scratching the skin. Then 
everything quieted down again ; and we were soon 
Telieved. I had barely strength to reach my trench. 
There, I fell exhausted, crying, " My foot ! my foot ! " 

I was taken to the hospital, and there the horrible 
condition of my foot was revealed. It was as white as 
snow, covered with frost. The pains were agonizing, 
but nothing terrified me as much as the physician's talk 
of the probable necessity of amputating it. But I made 
a stubborn fight, and I saved my right limb. The doctors 
soon put me on the road to recovery, and by persistent 
care succeeded in restoring my foot to its normal state. 

The opening of the year 1916 found me still in hospital. 
Almost immediately upon my discharge our Company 
was sent to the rear for a month's rest in Beloye, a village 
some distance behind the fighting line. We were billeted 
with the peasants in their homes ; and we enjoyed the use 
of a bath-house and slept on the peasants' ovens, in true 
homely fashion. We even had the opportunity of seeing 
moving pictures, the apparatus being carried from base 
to base on a motor belonging to the Union of Zemstvos. 
We also established our oM^n theatre and acted a play, 
written by one of our artillery officers. There were two 
women characters in the drama, and I was chosen for 
the leading role. The other feminine role was played 
by a young officer. It was with great reluctance that I 
consented to take the part, and only after the urgent 
appeals of the Commander. I did not believe myself 
capable of acting, and even the thunderous applause 
that I won on that occasion has not changed my belief. 

At Beloye many of the soldiers and officers were 
visited by their wives. I made many acquaintances 



108 YASHKA 

there and some fast friendships. One of the latter was 
with the wife of a stretcher-bearer with whom ' I had 
worked. She was a young, pretty and very lovable 
woman, and her husband adored her. When our month's 
rest was drawing to an end and the order came for 
the women to leave, the stretcher-bearer borrowed the 
Commander's horses in order to drive his wife to the 
station. On his way back he had an apoplectic stroke 
and died immediately. He received a military funeral, 
and I made a wreath and placed it on his coffin. 

As we lowered his coffin into the grave the thought 
inevitably suggested itself to me whether I would be 
buried like this or my body lost and blown to the winds 
in No Man's Land. The same thought must have passed 
through several minds. 

Another friend, made at the same time, was the wife 
of Lieutenant Bobrov, the former school teacher. Both 
of them helped me to learn to write and improve my 
reading. The peasant women of the locality were so 
poor and ignorant that I devoted part of my time to 
aiding them. IMany of them were suffering from minor 
ailments that were in need of attention. One evening 
I was even called to attend a woman in child-birth, 
this being my first experience in midwifery. Another 
time I was asked to visit a yery bad case of fever. 

Then came the trenches again. Again intense cold, 
again unceasing watchfulness and irritating inactivity. 
But the air was full of expectation. As the winter 
drew to its close, rumours of a gigantic spring offensive 
grew more and more insistent. Surely the war cannot 
end without a general battle, the men argued. And 
when, towards the end of February, we were again 
taken for a two-weeks' rest, it became clear that we were 
to be prepared for an offensive. We received new 
outfits and equipment. On March the 5th the Com- 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 109 

mander of the Regiment addressed us. He spoke of 
the coming battle and appealed to us to be brave and 
win a great victory. He told us that the enemy's 
defences were very strong and that it would require a 
mighty effort to overcome them. 

Then we started for the front. The slush and mud 
were unimaginable. We walked deep in water, mixed 
with ice. On the road we met many wounded being 
carried to the hospital. We also passed by a cemetery 
where the soldiers who had fallen in our lines were being 
buried in one huge grave. We were kept in the rear for 
the night, as reserves, and were told to await orders 
to-morrow to proceed to the trenches. 

March the 6th began with an unprecedented bombard- 
ment on our side. The Germans replied with equal 
violence, and the earth fairly shook. The cannonade 
lasted all day. Then an order came for us to form ranks 
and march into the trenches. We knew that it meant 
that we were to take part in the offensive. 

Lieutenant Bobrov came up to me unexpectedly with 
these words : 

" Yashka, take this and deliver it to my wife after the 
attack. I have had a presentiment for three days that I 
shall not survive this battle." He handed me a letter 
and a ring. 

" But, Lieutenant," I objected, though I knew that 
protestations were of no avail at such a moment, " you 
are mistaken so. It will not happen. Presentiments are 
deceiving." 

He grimly shook his head and pressed my hand. 

" Not this one, Yashka," he said. 

We were in the trenches already, under a veritable 
hail of shells. There were dead and dying in our midst. 
Waist-deep in water we crouched, praying to God. 
Suddenly a gas wave came in our direction. It caught 



110 YASHKA 

some without their masks, and for them there was no 
escape. I, myself, narrowly missed this horrible death. 
My lips contracted and my eyes watered and burned for 
three weeks afterward. 

The signal to advance was given, and we started, 
knee-deep in mud, for the enemy. In places the pools 
reached above our waists. Shells and bullets played 
havoc among us. Of those who fell wounded, many 
sank in the mud and were drowned. The German fire 
was devastating. Our lines grew thinner and thinner, 
and progress became so slow that our doom was certain 
in the event of a further advance. 

The order to retreat rang out. How can one describe 
the march back through the inferno of No Man's Land 
on that night of March 7th, 1916? There were wounded 
men submerged all but their heads, calling piteously for 
help. " Save me, for Christ's sake I " came from every 
side. From the trenches there went up a chorus of the 
same heartrending appeals. So long as we were alive 
we couldnot remain deaf to the pleadings of our comrades. 

Fifty of us went out to do the work of rescue. Never 
before had I worked in such harrowing, blood-curdling 
circumstances. One man was wounded in the neck or 
face, and I had to grip him under the arms and drag his 
body through the mud. Another had his side torn by 
a shell, and it required many difficult manoeuvres before 
I could extricate him. Several sank so deep that my 
own strength was not sufficient to drag them out. 

Finally I broke down, just as I reached my trench with 
a burden. I was so exhausted that all my bones were 
aching. The soldiers got some drmking water, a very 
hard thing to get, and made some tea for me. Somehow 
they obtained for me a dry overcoat and put me to 
sleep in a sheltered corner. I slept about four hours, 
and then resumed my search for wounded comrades. 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 111 

All day the artillery boomed again, as violently a 
on the previous day. At night, our ranks having been 
replenished with fresh drafts, we climbed out again and 
rushed for the enemy. Again we suffered heavily, but 
our operation this time was more successful. When the 
Germans saw us pressing forward determinedly in their 
direction they came out for a counter-attack. With 
bayonets fixed and a tremendous " Hurrah " we hurled 
ourselves at them. 

The Germans never did like t\\^ Russian bayonets. As 
a matter of fact, they dreaded them more than any other 
arm of warfare, and so they broke down and took to 
their heels. , We pursued them into their trenches, and 
there followed a fierce scrimmage. Many of the Germans 
raised their hands in sign of surrender. They realized 
that we were in a fierce, exasperated mood. Others 
fought to the end, and all this time German machine guns 
swept their own trenches, where Teuton and Slav were 
mixed in combat. Then we flung ourselves upon the 
machine gun positions. 

Our regiment captured in that attack two thousand 
five hundred Germans and thirty machine guns. I 
escaped with only a slight wound in the right leg and did 
not leave the ranks. Elated by our victory over the 
strong defences of the first line, we swept on toward 
the enemy's second line. His fire slackened considerably. 
A great triumph was in prospect, as behind the weak 
second and third lines there was an open stretch of 
undefended territory for many miles. 

Our advance line was within seventy feet of the 
enemy's trenches when an order came from General 
Walter to halt and return to our positions. It was a 
terrible shock to men and officers alike. Our Colonel 
talked to the General on the field telephone, explaining 
to him the situation. The General was obdurate. All 



112 YASHKA 

of us were so incensed at this treacherous order that, had 
any one of us taken command at the moment, we should 
undoubtedly have won a great victory, as the breach in 
the German defences was complete. 

The conversation between the Colonel and the General 
ended in a quarrel. The General had not, apparently, 
expected us to break through the first German line. So 
many waves of Russian soldiers had beaten in vain 
against it, and with such terrific losses. It became 
evident to our men that it was the General's treacherous 
design to have as many of us slaughtered as possible. 

But discipline was severe, and orders were orders. We 
had to go back. We were so exhausted that our bodies 
welcomed a rest. In those two days, the 7th and 8th of 
August, our ranks were refilled four times with fresh 
drafts. Our casualties were enormous The corpses 
lay thick everywhere, like mushrooms after rain, and 
there were innumerable wounded. One could not take 
a step in No Man's Land without coming into contact 
with the corpse of a Russian or a German. Bloody feet, 
hands, sometimes heads, lay scattered in the mud. 

That was the most terrible offensive in which I was 
engaged. It has come down into history as the Battle of 
Postovy . We spent the first night in the German trenches 
we had captured. It was a night of unforgettable 
horrors. The darkness was impenetrable. The stench 
was suffocating. The groimd was full of mud-holes. 
Some of us sat on corpses. Other rested their feet on 
dead men. One could not stretch a hand without touch- 
ing a lifeless body. We were hungry. We were cold. 
Our flesh crept in the dreadful surroundings. I wanted 
to get up. My hand sought support. It fell on the face 
of a corpse, stuck against the wall. I screamed, slipped 
and fell. My fingers buried themselves in the torn 
abdomen of a body. 



'!^'; 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 113 

I was seized with horror such as I had never experi- 
enced, and shrieked hysterically. My cries were heard 
in the officers' dugout, and a man was sent with an electric 
torch to rescue Yashka, whom they had supposed to be 
wounded. It was warm and comfortable in the dugout, 
as it had previously been used by the enemy's regimental 
staff. I was given some tea, and little by little I 
recovered my self-control. 

The entrance of the dugout was of course now facing 
the enemy. He knew its exact position and concentrated 
his fire on it. Although bomb-proof, it soon began to 
collapse under the rain of shells. Some of these blocked 
the entrance almost completely with debris. Finally, a 
shell penetrated the roof, putting out the light, killing 
five and wounding several. I lay in a corner, buried 
under wreckage, soldiers and officers, some of whom were 
wounded and others dead. The groans were indescrib- 
able. As the screech of a new shell was heard overhead 
I believed death to be close at hand. There was no ques- 
tion of making an immediate effort to extricate myself 
and escape while the bombs were still crashing into 
the hole. When with the dawn the bombardment finally 
ceased, and I was saved, I could hardly believe the 
evidence of my own senses that I was unhurt. 

The following day I discovered the body of Lieutenant 
Bobrov. His presentiment was right, after all. He was 
an intrepid fighter, and a man of noble impulses. I 
fulfilled his wish, and had his ring and letter sent through 
the physician to his wife. Our own Regiment had two 
thousand wounded. And when the dead were gathered 
from the field and carried out of the trenches, there were 
long, long, rows of them stretched out in the sun awaiting 
eternal rest in the immense common grave that was being 
dug for them in the rear. 

With bowed heads and bleeding hearts we paid last 

I 



114 yashka 

homage to out comrades. They had laid down their 
lives like true heroes, without suspectmg that they wert 
being sacrificed to no purpose by a vile traitor. 

On March 10th, still suffering from the effects of my 
dreadful night among the corpses, I was sent to the 
Divisional Hospital for a three days' rest. I was back in 
the trenches on the Mth, when another advance was 
ordered. The German positions were not yet strongly 
fortified, and we captured their first line without serious 
losses. Then there was another few days' respite, during 
which our ranks were reformed. 

Early in the morning of March 16th, after an ineffectual 
bombardment of the enemy's position by our artillery, 
the signal to go over the top w^as given. We advanced 
in the face of a stubborn German fire, dashing through 
No Man's Land only to find the enemy's wire defences 
intact. There was nothing to do but retreat. It was 
while running back that a bullet struck me in the right 
leg, shattering the bone. I fell. Within a hundred feet 
of me ran the enemy's first line. Bullets whizzed over 
my head, pursuing my fleeing comrades. 

I was not alone. Others were groaning not far from 
me. Some prayed for death. ... I grew thirsty. I 
had lost a great deal of blood. But I knew it was useless 
to move. The sun rose in the east, onl> to be obscured 
by grey clouds. 

" Shall I be rescued ? " I wondered. " Perhaps the 
enemy's stretcher-bearer will pick mc up soon. But no, 
he just fired at that soldier yonder who raised himself in 
an effort to move." 

I pressed myself closer to the ground. I seemed to 
hear voices coming near. I held my breath in suspense. 

" I am a German prisoner ! " I thought. Then the 
voices died away, and again my thirst tortured me. 

" Holy Mother, when will help come ? Or am 1 doomed 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 115 

to lie here indefinitely till I fall into unconsciousness and 
die ? . . . The sun is already in mid-heaven. My 
comrades are having their soup and warm tea. What 
Would I not give for a glass of hot tea ! The Germans are 
eating, too. I can hear the clatter of their pans. Why, 
I can even smell faintly the steam from their soup." 

It is calm now. Only rarely a sniper's bullet crosses 
the field. . . . Night, night, night. . . . How I wish 
for night ! Certainly our men are not going to let all 
of us perish here. Besides, they must have missed me by 
now. They surely won't let Yashka, dead or alive, lie in 
the field. So there is hope." 

The thought of my comrades' discovery of my absence 
gave me new strength. The seconds seemed hours and 
the minutes days, but the shadows arrived at last, 
creeping toward the side where the sun had disappeared. 
Then came darkness and rescue was not long in coming. 
Our brave stretcher-bearers, aided by some of the sol- 
diers, were out on their pious mission. Cautiously they 
moved nearer and nearer to the German line, and finally 
picked me up. Yes, it was Yashka whom they carried 
into our trenches. 

My comrades were filled with rejoicing. " Yashka, 
alive ! God speed you to recovery, Yashka ! " I could 
only reply in a whisper. They took me to the first-aid 
station, cleansed my wound and dressed it. I suffered 
much. Then I was sent on to Moscow, where I lay in 
the Ekaterina Hospital, ward Number 20. 

1 was lonely in the hospital, where I spent nearly three 
months. The other patients would have their visitors or 
receive parcels from home, but nobody visited me, 
iaobody sent anything to me. March, April, May came 
arid went in the monotony of ward Number 20 . Finally, 
one day in the beginning of June, I was declared fit to 
return to the fighting line. My regiment was just then 



,116 YASHKA 

being transferred to Lutzk front. On June 20th I 
caught up with it. The welcome I received surpassed 
even that of the previous year. Fruit and sweets were 
showered upon me. The soldiers were in a happy 
mood. The Germans had just been driven back at this 
sector by General Brusilov for a great many miles. The 
country was interspersed with their evacuated positions. 
Here and there enemy corpses were still unburied. Our 
men, though overjoyed, were worn out by forced marches 
and the long pursuit. 

It was midsummer, and the heat was prostrating. We 
marched on June 21st a distance of ten miles and 
stopped for rest. Many of our number collapsed, and 
we felt too worn out to go on, but the Commander 
implored us to keep up, promising a rest in the trenches. 
It was thirteen miles to the front line, and we reached it 
on the same day. 

As we marched along we observed on both sides of 
the road that crops which had not been destroyed in 
the course of the fighting were ripening. The fighting 
line ran near a village called Dubova Kortchma. We 
found in its neighbourhood a country seat hastily 
abandoned by the Germans. The estate was full of' 
cattle, fowl, potatoes and other food. That night we had 'u 
a royal feast. j 

We occupied abandoned German trenches. It was 
not the time for rest. The artillery opened fire early in 
the evening and boomed ceaselessly throughout the night..; 
It could mean nothing but an immediate attack. We 
were not mistaken. At four in the morning we received ^1 
word that the Germans had left their positions and 
started for our side. At this moment our beloveds 
Commander, Grishaninov, was struck to the ground.' 
He was wounded. We attended to him promptly and 
despatched him to the rear. There was no time t 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 117 

waste. We met the advancing Germans with repeated 
volleys, and when they approached our positions we 
climbed out and charged them with fixed bayonets. 

Suddenly a terrific explosion deafened me, and I fell 
to the ground. A German shell had come my way, a 
shell I shall never forget, as part of it I still carry in 
my body. 

I felt frightful pains in my back. I had been hit by a 
fragment at the end of the spinal column. My agony 
lasted long enough to attract a couple of soldiers. Then 
I became unconscious. They carried me to a dressing 
station. The wound was so serious that the physician 
in charge did not believe that I could survive. I was 
placed in an ambulance and taken to Lutzk. I required 
electrical treatment, but the Lutzk Hospitals were not 
supplied with the necessary apparatus. It was decided 
to send me to Kiev. My condition, however, was so 
grave that for three days the doctors considered it 
dangerous to move me. 

In Kiev the stream of wounded was so great that I 
was compelled to lie in the street on a stretcher for a 
couple of hours before I was taken to hospital. I was 
informed, after an X-ray examination, that a fragment 
of shell was imbedded in my body and asked if I wished 
an operation to have it removed. I could not imagine 
living with a piece of shell in my flesh, and so requested 
its removal. Whether because of my condition or for 
some other reason, the surgeon finally decided not to 
operate, and told me that I would have to be sent either 
to Petrograd or to Moscow for treatment. As I was 
given the choice, I decided on Moscow, because I had 
spent the spring months of the year in the Ekaterina 
Hospital there. 

The wound in the spine paralysed me to such an extent 
that I could not move even a finger. I lay in the Moscow 



118 YASHKA 

Hospital hovering between life and death for some 
weeks, resembling a log more tlian a human body. 
Only my mind was active and my he9,rt full of pain. 

Every day I was massaged, carried on a stretcher and 
bathed. Then the physician would attend me, probing 
my wound with iodine, and treating it with electricity, 
after which I was bathed again and my wound dressed. 
This daily procedure was inconceivable torture, in spite 
of the morphine in j ected into me. There was little peace 
in the ward in which I was placed. All the beds were 
occupied by serious cases, and the groans and moans 
must have reached to Heaven. 

Four months I lay paralysed, never expecting to 
recover. My diet consisted of milk and kasha, with which 
I was fed by an attendant. On many a dreary day 
death would have been a welcome visitor. It seemed 
so futile, so hopeless to remain alive in such a state, but 
the doctor, who was a Jew, and very kind-hearted, would 
not give up hope. He persisted in his daily treatment, 
praising my stoicism and encouraging me with kind 
words. His faith was finally rewarded. 

At the end of four months I began to feel life stirriug 
once again in my helpless body. My finger could move ! 
What a joy that was ! Jn a few days I could turn my 
head a little and stretch my arm. It was a wonderful 
sensation, this gradual resurrection of my lifeless mem- 
bers. To be able to close my fingers after four months of 
paralysis ! It thrilled me. To be able to bend a knee 
that had been torpid so long ! It seemed like a miracle. 
And I offered thanks to God with all the fervour that I 
could command. ■ 

One day a woman by the name of Daria Maximovna 
Vasilieva came to see me. I searched my mind in 
vain for an acquaintance of that name as I asked that 
she should be brought to my bed. But as I was perhaps] 



WOUNDED AND PARALYSED 119 

the only patient in the ward that had no visitors and 
received no parcels it may be imagined how pleased 
I was. She introduced herself as the mother of Stepan, 
of my Company. Of course, I knew Stepan well. He 
was a student before the war and volunteered as a 
junior officer. 

" Stepan has just written me," Madame Vasilieva 
said, " begging me to come and see you. ' Go to the 
Ekaterina Hospital and visit our Yashka,' he writes. 
' She is lonely there, and I want you to do for her as 
much as you would do for me, for she saved my life 
once, and has been like a mother to the boys here. She 
is a respectable, patriotic young woman and my interest 
in her is simply that of a comrade, for she is a soldier, 
and a brave and gallant soldier.' He praised you so 
much, my dear, that my heart went out to you. May 
God bless you." 

She brought me some delicacies, and we becanie friends 
immediately. I told her all about her son and our life 
in the trenches. She wept and wondered how I had 
borne it. Her affection for me grew so strong that she 
used to visit me several times a week, although she 
lived on the outskirts of the city. Her husband was 
assistant superintendent at a factory and they occupied 
a small but comfortable dwelling in keeping with their 
means. Daria Maximovna herself was a middle-aged 
woman simply dressed and of distinguished appearance. 
She had a married daughter, Tonetchka, and another 
son, a youth of about seventeen, who was a student 
at the high-school. 

My friend helped me to regain my spirits, and I made 
good progress towards recovery. As I gradually regained 
full control of my muscles and nerves, I used to tease 
the doctor sometimes : 

" Well, doctor," I would say to him. " I am going to 
war again," 



120 YASHKA 

" No, no," he would answer, " there will be no more 
war for you, my dear." 

I wondered whether I really would be able to return 
to the front. There was that fragment of shell still in 
my body. The doctor would not extract it. He advised 
me to wait until I had completely recovered and have 
it removed at some future date by means of an abdominal 
operation, as the fragment is lodged in the omentum. 
I have not yet had the opportunity to undergo such an 
operation, and I still have that piece of shell in my 
body. The slightest indigestion causes me to suffer from 
it even now. 

I had to learn to walk, as if I had never mastered 
that art before. I was not successful at the first attempt. 
Having asked the doctor for a pair of crutches I tried 
to stand up, but fell back weak and helpless on the 
bed. The attendants, however, placed me in a wheel- 
chair and took me out into the garden. This move- 
ment gave me great pleasure. Once, in the absence of 
my attendant, I tried to stand up alone and walk a step. 
It was very painful, but I maintained my balance, and 
tears of joy came streaming down my cheeks. I was 
jubilant. 

It was not till a week later, however, that I was per- 
mitted by the doctor to walk a little, supported by the 
attendants. But I had taken only ten steps, beaming witli 
triumph and making every effort to overcome my pain, 
when I collapsed and fainted. The nurses were alarmed 
and called the doctor who told them to be more cautious • 
in the future. I steadily improved, however, and a j: 
couple of weeks later I was able to walk. Naturally!" 
I did not feel sure of my legs at first ; they trembled 
and seemed very weak. Gradually they regained their 
former strength and at the end of six months spent in 
the hospital I was again in possession of all my faculties. 



m 



CHAPTER IX 

EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 

THE morning on which I was taken before the 
miUtary medical commission I was in high 
spirits. It was a late December day, but my heart 
was aglow as I was led into the large room in which 
about two hundred other patients were waiting for the 
examination which would decide whether they were to 
be sent home or were considered fit to be returned to 
the front. 

The chairman of the commission was a General. As 
my turn came and he reached the name of Maria Botch- 
kareva he thought it a mistake and corrected it to 
Marin Botchkarev. By that name I was called out of 
the crowd. 

The General shouted the order that was given to 
every soldier awaiting discharge. 

" Take off your clothes." 

I walked up resolutely and threw off my clothes. 

" A woman ! " went up from a couple of hundred 
throats, followed by an outburst of laughter that shook 
the building. The members of the commission were 
too amazed for words. 

"What the devil ! " cried the General. " Why did 
you undress ? " 

" I am a soldier, Excellency, and I obey orders without 
question," I replied. 

121 



122 YASHKA 

" Well, well. Hurry up and dress," came the order. 

" How about the examination. Excellency ? " I 
queried, -as I put my things on. 

" That's all right. You are passed." 

In view of the seriousness of the injury I had sustained 
the commission offered me a couple of months' leave, 
but I declined it and requested to be sent to the 
front in a few days. Supplied with fifteen roubles and 
a railway ticket I left the hospital and went to Daria 
Maximovna, who had invited me previously to stay 
with her for a little time. It was a short visit, lasting 
only three days, but a very happy one. It was so 
pleasant to be in a home again, to eat home food and 
to be under the care of a woman who became a second 
mother to me. With packages for myself and Stepan 
and the blessings of the whole family following me I 
left Moscow from the Nikolaiev Station. The train was 
crowded and there was only standing room. 

On the platform my attention was attracted to a 
poor woman with a little baby in her arms, another 
mite on the floor and a giri of about five hanging on 
to her skirt. All the woman's property was packed 
in a single bag. The children were crying for bread, 
the woman tried to calm them, evidently in dread of 
something. It touched my heart to watch this little 
group, and I offered some bread to the children. 

Then the woman confided in me the cause for her 
fear. She had no money and no ticket and expected 
to be put off at the next station. She was the wife of a 
soldier from a village in German hands and was now 
bound for a town three thousand versts away, 
where she had some relatives. I felt that something 
must be done for this woman, and I made an appeal to 
the soldiers who filled the car, but they did not respond 
at first. 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 123 

" She is the wife of a soldier, of one like yourselves," 
I said. " Suppose she were the wife of one of you ! For 
all you know, the wives of some of you here may be 
wandering about the country in a similar state. Come, 
let us get off at the next station, go to the station- 
master and ask that she may be allowed to go to her 
destination." 

The soldiers were moved and they helped me to take 
the woman and her belongings off the train at the next 
stop. We went to the station-master, who was very 
kind, but explained that he could do nothing in the 
matter. " I have no right to give permission to travel 
without a ticket, and I can't distribute free tickets," 
he said, and he sent us to the military commandant. 
I went with the woman, having been deserted by the 
soldiers who had heard the train whistle and did not 
want to miss it. I waited for another train. 

The commandant repeated the words of the station- 
master. He had no right to provide her with a military 
pass, he said. 

" No right ! " I exclaimed, beside myself. " She is 
the wife of a soldier and her husband is probably now, at 
this very moment, going into battle to defend the country, 
while you, safe and well-fed in the rear here, won't 
even take care of his wife and children. It is an outrage. 
Look at the woman. She needs medical attention, 
and her children are starved." 

" And who are you ? " sharply asked the commandant. 

" I will show you who I am," I answered, taking off 
my medals and cross and showing him my certificate. 
" I have shed enough blood to be entitled to demand 
justice for the helpless wife of a soldier." 

But the commandant turned his back on me and 
went away. There was nothing to be done but to make 
a collection. I went to the First-Class waiting-J'oomT 



124 YASHKA 

which was filled with officers and well-to-do passengers, 
took my cap in my hand and went round, begging for 
a poor soldier's wife. When I had finished there were 
eighty roubles in the cap. With this money I went to 
the commandant again, and handed it to him with a 
request that he should provide accommodation for the 
woman and her children. She did not know how to 
express her gratitude to me. 

The next train came in. I never before saw one so 
packed. There could be no thought of getting inside a 
car. The only space available was on the top of a 
coach. There were plenty of passengers even there. 
With the aid of some soldiers I climbed on to the top, 
where I spent two days and two nights. It was impos- 
sible to get off at every station to take a walk. We 
had to send some one even to fetch the tea, and our 
food consisted of that and bread. 

Accidents were not uncommon. On the very roof 
on which I travelled a man fell asleep, rolled off, and 
was killed instantaneously. I narrowly escaped a 
similar fate. I began to doze and drifted to the edge 
and had not a soldier caught me in the nick of time I 
should undoubtedly have fallen off. We finally arrived 
at Kiev. 

That journey on the train was a symbol of the country's 
condition in the winter of 1916. The government 
machinery was breaking down. The soldiers had lost 
faith in their leaders, and there was a general feeling 
that they were being sent in thousands merely to be 
slaughtered. Rumours flew thick and fast. The old 
soldiers had been killed off and the fresh drafts were 
impatient for the end of the war. The spirit of 1914 
was no more. 

In Kiev I had to obtain information as to the position 
of my regiment. It was now near the town of Beres- 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 125 

techko. In my absence the men had advanced ten 
miles. The train from Kiev was also very crowded 
and there was only standing room. At the stations 
we sent some of the soldiers to fill our kettles with hot 
water. The men could seldom get in and out through 
the entrances, so they used the windows. The train 
passed through Zhitomir and Zhimerinka on the way 
to Lutzk. There I changed to a branch line, going to 
the station of Verba, within twenty miles of our position. 

It was m\iddy on the road to the front. Overhead 
flew whole flocks of aeroplanes, raining bombs. I got 
used to them. In the afternoon there was a down- 
pour, and I was thoroughly soaked. Dead tired, with 
water streaming from my clothes, I arrived in the even- 
ing within three miles of the first line. There was a 
regimental supply train camping on both sides of the 
road. I approached a sentry and asked : 

" What regiment is billeted here ? " 

" The Twenty-Eighth Polotsk Regiment." 

My heart leaped for joy. The soldier did not recog- 
nize me. He was a new man. But the others must 
have told him of me. 

" I am Yashka," I said. 

That was a pass-word. They all knew the name 
and had heard from the veterans of the regiment many 
stories about me. I was taken to the Colonel in com- 
mand of the supply train, a queer old man who kissed 
me on both cheeks and jumped about, clapping his 
hands and shouting, " Yashka ! Yashka ! " 

He was kind-hearted and immediately began to 
look after my comfort. He promptly ordered an 
orderly to bring a new outfit and gave instructions for 
the bath used by the officers to be prepared for me. 
Clean and in the new uniform, I accepted the invitation 
to sup with the Colonel. There were several other 



126 YASHKA 

officers at the table and all were glad to see me. The 
news spread that Yashka had arrived, and some soldiers 
could not restrain their desire to shake hands with me. 
Every now and then there would be a meek knock at 
the door and in answer to the Colonel's question, " Who's 
there ? " a plaintive voice would say : 

" Excellency, may I be allowed to see Yashka ? " 

In time quite a number of comrades were admitted 
into the house. One part of it was occupied by the 
owner, a widow with a young daughter. I spent the: 
night with the latter and in the morning started ou! 
to the front. Some of our companies were in reserve 
and my progress became a triumphal journey. I was 
feasted on the way and given several ovations. 

I presented mj^self to the Commander of the Regiment, 
who invited me to dine that afternoon with the Regi- 
mentail Staff, certainly the first case of an ordinary 
soldier receiving such an invitation in the history of the 
Regiment. At dinner the Commander toasted me, 
telling the story of my work with the Regiment and wish- 
ing me many more years of such service. 

At the conclusion he pinned a cross of the 3rd Degree 
on my breast, and marked with a pencil three stripes on 
my shoulder, thus promoting me to the grade of senior 
non-commissioned officer. The Staff crowded round me. 
pressing my hands, praising me and expressing their 
good wishes. I was profoundly moved by this display 
of cordial appreciation and affection on the part of the 
officers. This was my reward for all the suffering I had 
undergone. 

And it was a reward worth having. What did I 
care for a wound in the spine and four months' paralysis 
if this was the return that I received for my sacrifice ? 
Trenches filled with bloody corpses held no horror for 
me then. No Man's Land seemed quite an attractive 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 127 

place in which to spend a day with a bleeding leg. The 
screech of shells and the whistle of bullets presented 
themselves like music to my imagination. Ah, life was 
not so bleak and meaningless, after all. It had its 
moments of bliss that compensated for years of torment 
and misery. 

The commander had, in his order of the day, stated 
the fact of my return and promotion. He furnished 
me with an orderly to show me the way to the trenches. 
Again I was hailed by everybody as I emerged from the 
dugout of the Commander of the Company, who had 
placed me in charge of a platoon of seventy men. In 
this capacity I had to keep an inventory of the supplies 
and equipment of my men, a soldier acting as clerk under 
my instructions. 

Our positions were on the bank of the Styr, which is very 
narrow and shallow at that point. On the opposite bank 
were the German trenches. Several hundred feet from us 
was a bridge across the stream which had been left intact 
by both sides. At our end of it we maintained a post 
while the enemy kept a similar watch at the opposite 
end. Our line was very uneven, owing to the irregularity 
of the river's course. -The Germans were very persistent 
in mine-throwing. However, the mines travelled so 
slowly that we could take cover before they fell on 
our side. My Company occupied a position close to the 
enemy's first line. 

I had not spent a month in the trenches when a local 
battle occurred which resulted in my capture by the 
Germans. The latter had continued their mine-throwing 
operations for a period of about twelve days so regularly 
that we grew accustomed to them and were not expecting 
an attack. Besides, it was past the time of year for 
active fighting, and the cold was intense. 

One morning about six o'clock, when we had turned 



128 YASHKA 

in for our daily sleep, we were suddenly awakened by 
a tremendous " Hurrah ! " We nervously seized our 
rifles and peeped through the loop-holes. Great 
Heavens ! There, within a hundred feet of us, in 
front and in the rear, the Germans were crossing the 
Styr ! Before we had time to organize resistance they 
were upon us, capturing five hundred of our men. I 
was among the number. 

We were brought before the German Staff for exami- 
nation. Every one of us was tormented with questions, 
intended to extract valuable military information. 
Threats were bestowed on those who refused to disclose 
anything. Some cowards among us, especially those of 
non-Russian stock, gave away important facts. As the 
examination was proceeding, our artillery on the other 
side opened up a violent bombardment of the German 
defences. It was evident that the German Commander 
had not many reserves, as he made frantic appeals by 
telephone for support. It required a considerable 
force to keep guard oveT us and an even larger force to 
take us to the rear. As the enemy expected a Russian 
attack at any moment, it was decided not to remove us 
until help arrived. 

" So I am a German prisoner," I thought. " How 
unexpected ! There is still hope that our comrades on 
the other side will come to our rescue. Only, every 
minute is precious. They must hurry or we are lost. 
Now my turn is coming. What shall I tell them ? I 
must deny being a soldier and invent some kind of a 
story." 

" I am a woman and not a soldier," I announced as 
soon as I was called. 

" Are you of noble blood ? " I was asked. 

" Yes," I answered, promptly deciding to claim that 
I was a Red Cross nurse, dressed in man's uniform, in 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 129 

order to pay a visit to my husband, an officer in tfie 
front line trendies. 

" Have you many women fighting in the ranks ? " 
was the next question. 

" I don't know. I told you that I was not a soldier." 

" What were you doing in the trenches then ? " 

" I came to see my husband, who is an officer of the 
Regiment." 

" Why did you shoot, then ? The soldiers tell that 
you shot at them." 

" I did it to defend myself. I was afraid to be cap- 
tured. I serve as a Red Cross nurse in the rear hospital, 
and came over to the fighting line for a visit." 

The Russian fire was growing hotter every minute. 
Some of our shells wounded not only enemy soldiers but 
several of the captives. It was past noon, but the Ger- 
mans were too nervous to eat their lunch. The expected 
reserves were not forthcoming, and there was every 
sign of a fierce counter-attack by our troops. 

At two o'clock our soldiers went over the top and 
started for the German positions. The enemy Com- 
mander decided to retreat with his batch of prisoners 
to the second line rather than defend the front trenches. 
It was a critical moment. As we were lined up the 
Hurrah " of our comrades reached us. It stimulated 
us to a spontaneous decision. 

We threw ourselves, five hundred strong, at our 
captors, wrested many of their rifles and bayonets and 
engaged in a ferocious hand-to-hand combat, just as 
our men rushed through the torn wire entanglements into 
the trenches. The confusion was indescribable ; the 
killing merciless. I grasped five hand grenades that 
lay near me and threw them at a group of about ten 
Germans. They must have all been killed. Our entire 
line across the river was advancing at the same time, 

E 



130 YASHKA 

The first German line was occupied by our troops aiul 
both banks of the Styr were then in our hands. 

Thus ended my captivity. I was in German hands for 
a period of only eight hours and amply avenged even 
this brief stay. There was great activity in our ranks 
for a couple of days. We fortified the newly- won posi- 
tions and prepared for another attack. Two days later 
we received the signal to advance. But again our artil- 
lery had failed to cut the German wire defences. After 
pushing on under a devastating fire and incurring heavy 
losses we were compelled to retreat, leaving many of 
our comrades wounded and dying on the field of battle. 

Our Commander improvised a relief party by calling 
for twenty volunteers. I responded among the first. 
Provided with twenty red crosses which we prominently 
displayed, and leaving our rifles in the trenches, we went 
out in the open daylight to rescue the wounded. I was 
allowed to proceed by the Germans almost to their 
barbed wire. Then, as I leaned over a wounded man 
whose leg was broken, I heard the click of a trigger and 
immediately lay flat Vn the ground. Five buUets 
whistled over me, one after another. Most of them hit 
the wounded soldier, who was killed. I continued to lie 
motionless, and the German sniper was evidently satis- 
fied that he had killed me as well. I remained in this 
position till night, when I crawled back to our trenches. 

Of the twenty Red Cross volunteers only five returned 
alive. 

The following day an order was issued by the Com- 
mander thanking all those soldiers who had been cap- 
tured three days before and had resolved to save them- 
selves by fighting their captors. My name appeared 
first on the list. Those of us who had refused to give 
any information to the enemy were praised in the order. 
One soldier, who had revealed to the Germans a great 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 131 

deal of important information, was executed. I was 
recommended for a cross of the 2nd Degree, but, being a 
woman, I received only a medal of the 3rd Degree. 

The opening of the year 1917 found us resting two 
miles in the rear. There was much fun and merriment 
in the reserve, billets. Although the discipline was as 
strict as ever, the relations between the officers and men 
had, in the course of the three and a half years of the 
war, undergone a complete transformation. 

The older officers, trained in pre-war conditions, 
were no longer to be found, having died in battle or been 
disabled. The new junior officers, all young men taken 
from civil life, many of them former students and school 
teachers, were liberal in their views and very humane 
in their conduct. They mixed freely with the men in 
the ranks and allowed us more liberty than we had 
ever enjoyed. At the New Year festival we all danced 
together. These new relations were not entirely due 
to the new attitude from above. In a sense, they 
were generated from below by a dumb and yet potent 
undercurrent of restlessness. 

We were reviewed before returning to the front line 
by General Valuyev, the Commander of the Fifth 
Corps. I was presented to him by the Commander. 
The General shook my hand warmly, remarking that 
he had heard many praiseworthy things of me. 

Our positions were now on a hill, in the vicinity of 
Zelenaya Kolonia, while the enemy was at our feet in the 
valley. The trenches we occupied Lad been in German 
hands some time before. 

It was late in January when I made an expedition 
into No Man's Land at the head of a patrol of fifteen 
men. We crawled along a ditch that had once been a 
German communication trench. It ran along a very 
exposed part of the field and we exercised the utmost 



132 YASIIKA 

caution. As we came near to the enemy's trench hne 
I thought I heard German conversation. Leaving ten 
men behind, with instructions to come to our aid in case 
of a fight, five of us crept forward at a snail's pace and 
with perfect noiselessness. The German voices grew 
clearer and clearer. 

Finally we beheld a German listening-post. There 
were four of them, all seated with their backs toward us. 
Their rifles were scattered on the ground while they 
warmed their hands over a fire. Two of my men 
stretched their hands out, reached the rifles and removed 
them. It was a slow and difficult operation. The 
Germans chattered on unconcernedly. As I was cau- 
tiously reaching for the third rifle two of the Germans, 
having apparently heard a noise, made as if they were 
about to turn. 

In an instant my men were upon them. The two 
Avere bayoneted before I was able to realize what was 
happening. It had been my intention to bring in the 
four alive. The other two Germans were safe in our 
hands. 

In all my experience of patrol duty, and I must have 
taken part in at least a hundred expeditions into No 
Man's Land, it was the first case of a German listening- 
post being caught in such a manner. We returned 
triumphantly with our prizes. 

One of the prisoners was a tall, red-headed fellow, 
the other, who wore pince-nez, was evidently an educated 
man. We took them to Regimental Headquarters, 
accompanied on the way by much cheering and con- 
gratulations. The Commander wanted to know the 
details of the capture and had them written down word 
for word. He congratulated me, pressing my hand, and 
so did all the other officers, telling me that my name 
would live for ever in the annals of the Polotsk Regi- 



EIGHT HOURS IN GERMAN HANDS 183 

merit. I was recommended for a gold cross of the 1st 
Degree and given two days' leave for rest in the village. 

At the end of the two days my Company joined me 
in the reserve. Strange things were occurring in our 
midst. In subdued voices the men repeated dark 
rumours about Rasputin's death. Wild stories about 
his connections with the Court and Germany were 
communicated from mouth to mouth. The spirit of 
insubordination was growing among the soldiers, though 
at that time it was still kept within bounds. The men 
were weary, terribly weary of the war. " How long 
shall we continue this fighting ? " and " What are we 
fighting for ? " were on the lips of everybody. It was 
the fourth winter and still there was no end in sight. 

Our men were genuinely anxious to solve the great 
puzzle that the war had become to them. Hadn't 
it been proved again and again that the officers at Head- 
quarters were selling them to the enemy ? Hadn't a 
multitude of reports reached them that the Court was 
pro-German ? Hadn't they heard of the War Minister 
I^laced under arrest and charged with being a traitor ? 
Wasn't it clear, therefore, that the Government, the 
official class, was in league with the enemy ? Then, 
why continue this carnage indefinitely ? If the Govern- 
ment was in alliance with Germany, what prevented it 
from concluding peace ? Was it the desire to have 
millions more of them slaughtered ? 

This was the riddle that forced itself upon the peasant 
mind. It was complicated by a hundred other sugges- 
tions that were injected into his brain from various 
channels. Depressed in spirit, discouraged and sullen 
in appearance was the Russian soldier in February, 
1917. 

We returned to our positions and took up the heavy 
burden. It was not long before an attack was organized 



134 YASHKA 

against the German line. Our artillery again displayed 
little effectiveness and again we climbed out of the 
trenches and swept across No Man's Land while the 
enemy's wire defences Avere intact. It was not the first 
wave of Russian breasts that had beaten itself in vain 
against that deadly barrier, to be hurled back with 
grave losses without even coming to grips with the foe. 
But each of those waves had left its drop of bitterness 
in the hearts of the survivors. And it was a particularly 
strong draught of bitterness that this last futile attack 
had left in the souls of the soldiers upon our sector. 

Nevertheless, in February, 1917, the front was unpre- 
pared for the eruption that was soon to shake the world. 
The front maintained its fierce hatred for the Germans 
and could not conceive of a righteous peace save through 
the efficient organization of a gigantic offensive against 
the enemy. The obstacle in the way of such an offensive 
was the traitorous Government. Against this Govern- 
ment were directed the indignation and suppressed 
discontent of the rank and file. But so old, so stable, 
so deep-rooted was the institution of Tsarism that, with 
all their secret contempt for the Court, with all their 
secret hatred for the officials of the Government, the 
armies at the front were not ripe yet for a conscious and 
deliberate rising. 



Part Three 

REVOLUTION 

CHAPTER X 

THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 

THE first warning of the approaching storm reached 
us through a soldier from our Company who had 
returriLed from leave at Petrograd. 

" Oh, heaven ! " he said. " If you but knew what is 
going on behind your backs ! Revolution ! Every- 
where they talk of overthrowing the Tsar. The capital 
is flaming with revolution." 

These words spread like wildfire among the men. 
They gathered in knots and discussed the significance 
of the report. Would it mean peace ? Would they get 
land and freedom ? Or would it mean another huge 
offensive before the end of the war ? The arguments, of 
course, took place in whispers, behind the backs of the 
officers. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that 
revolution meant preparation for a general attack 
against the Germans in order to win a victory before 
the conclusion of peace. 

For several days the air was charged with excitement 
and expectation. Everybody felt that earth-shaking 
events were taking place and our hearts echoed the 
distant rumblings of the storm. There was something 

135 



136 YASHKA 

reticent about the looks and manners of the officers, as 
if they were keeping important news to themselves. 

Finally, the joyful news arrived. The Commander 
gathered the entire Regiment to read to us the glorious 
words of the first manifesto, together with the famous 
Order No. 1. The miracle had happened ! Tsarism, 
which had enslaved us and flourished on the blood and 
sweat of the toiler, was overthrown. Freedom, Equality 
and Brotherhood ! How sweet were these w ords to 
our ears ! We were transported. There were tears 
of joy, embraces, dancing. It all seemed a dream, a 
wonderful dream. Who could have believed that the 
hated regime would be destroyed so easily and in our 
own lifetime ? 

The Commander read to us the manifesto, which con- 
cluded with a fervent appeal to us to hold the line with 
greater vigilance than ever, now that we were free citi- 
zens, and to defer d our newly won liberty from the 
attacks of the Kaiser and his supporters. Would we 
defend our freedom ? A multitude of throats shouted in 
a chorus, that passed over No Man's Land and reverber- 
ated in the German trenches, " Yes, we will ! " 

Would we swear allegiance to the Provisional Govern- 
ment, whose desire it was that we should prepare to 
drive the Germans out of Free Russia before returning 
home to divide up the land ? 

" We swear ! " thundered thousands of men, raising 
their right hands, and thoroughly alarming the enemy. 

Then came Order No. 1, signed by the Petrograd 
Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers. Soldiers and officers 
were now equal, it declared. All the citizens of Free 
Russia were henceforth equal. There would be no more 
discipline. The hated officers were enemies of the people 
and should no longer be obeyed and kept at their posts. 
The common soldier would now rule the army. Let the 



I?; 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 187 

rank and file elect their best men and institute com- 
mittees ; let there be Company, Regimental, Corps and 
Army committees. 

We were dazzled by this wealth of fine- sounding 
phrases. The men went about as if intoxicated. For 
four days the festival continued unabated, so wild with 
delight were the men. The Germans could not at first 
understand the cause of our rejoicings. When they 
learned it they ceased firing. 

There were meetings, meetings and meetings. Day 
and night the Regiment seemed to be in continuous 
session, listening to speeches that dwelt almost exclusively 
on the words of peace and freedom. The men were 
hungry for beautiful phrases and gloated over them. 

All duty was abandoned in the first few days. While 
the great upheaval had affected me profoundly, and the 
first day or two I shared completely the ecstasy of the 
men, I awoke early to a sense of responsibility. I 
gathered from the manifestoes and speeches that what 
was demanded of us was to hold the line with still 
more energy than before. Was not this the meaning 
of the revolution so far as we were concerned ? When 
I put this question to the soldiers they answered in 
the affirmative, but they had not the strength of will to 
tear themselves away from the magic circle of speech- 
making and visions. Such was their dazed condition, 
that they seem.ed to me no longer sane. The front had 
become a veritable lunatic asylum. 

One day, in the first week of the revolution, I ordered 
a soldier to take up duty at the listening-post. He 
refused. 

" i will take no orders from a baba,'" he sneered, " I 
can do as I please. We have freedom now." 

It was a bitter shock to me. Why, this very same 
soldier would have gone through fire for me a week 



138 YASHKA 

before. And now he was sneering at me. It seemed 
incredible and overwhelming. 

" Ha, ha," he jeered. " You can go yourself." 

Flushed with vexation I seized a rifle and answered : 

" Can I ? I will show you how a free citizen ought to 
guard his freedom ! " 

And I climbed over the top and made my way to the 
listening-post where I remained on duty for the full 
two hours. 

I talked to the soldiers, appealing to their sense of 
honour and arguing that the revolution imposed greater 
responsibilities upon the man in the ranks. They 
agreed that the defence of the country was the most 
important task confronting us. But had not the 
revolution brought them also freedom, with the injunc- 
tion to take upon themselves the control of the army, 
and to abolish discipline ? The men were full of enthu- 
siasm, but obedience was contrary to their ideas of 
liberty. Seeing that I could not get my men to perform 
their duties, I went to the Commander of the Company 
and asked to be released from the army and sent home. 

" I see no good in staying here and doing nothing," I 
said. " If this is war, I want to be out of it. I can do 
nothing with my men." 

" Have you gone out of your mind, Yashka ? " said 
the Commander. " Why, if you, who are a peasant 
yourself, one of them, beloved by all the rank and file, 
cannot remain, what can we officers do ? It is our 
duty as soldiers to stay to the last, until the men 
come to their senses. I am having my own troubles, 
Yashka," he confided to mc, in a low voice. " I cannot 
have my way, either. So you sec, we are all in the same 
boat. We have just got to put up with it." 

It was altogether contrary to my inclinations, but I 
remained. Little by little things improved. The sol- 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 139 

diers' committees began to exercise their functions, but 
they did not interfere with the purely miHtary depart- 
ment of our life. Those of the officers who had been 
disliked by the men, or whose records were typical of 
Tsaristic officials, disappeared with the revolution. 
Even Colonel Stubendorf, the Commander of the Regi- 
ment, had gone, retiring perhaps because of his German 
name. Our new Commander was Kudriavtzev, a popu- 
lar officer. 

Discipline was gradually re-established. It was not 
the old discipline. Its basis was no longer dread of 
punishment. It was a discipline founded on the high 
sense of responsibility that was soon instilled into the 
grey ranks of our army. True, there was no fighting 
between us and the enemy. There were even the begin- 
nings of that fatal fraternization plague which was 
later to be the ruin of the mighty Russian Army. But 
the soldiers responded to the appeals from the Provisional 
Government and the Soviet in the early weeks of the 
spring of 1917. They were ready to carry out unflinch- 
ingly any order from Petrograd. 

Those were still the days of immense possibilities. The 
men worshipped the distant figures in the rear who had 
brought them the boon of liberty and equality. We 
knew almost nothing of the various parties and factions. 
Peace was the sole^ thought of the men. They were 
told that peace could not come without defeating or 
overthrowing the Kaiser. Therefore, we all expected 
the word for a general advance. Had that word been 
given at that time nothing in the world could have with- 
stood our pressure. Nothing. The revolution had 
given birth to elemental forces in our hearts that defied 
and ever will defy description. 

Then there began a procession of speech-makers. 
There were delegates from the army, there were members 



140 YASHKA 

of the Duma, there were emissaries of the Petrograd 
Soviet. Almost every day there was a meeting, and 
almost every other day there were elections. We sent 
delegates to Corps Headquarters and delegates to Army 
Headquarters, delegates to a congress in Petrograd and 
delegates to consult with the Government. The speakers 
were almost all eloquent. They painted beautiful pictures 
of Russia's future, of universal brotherhood, of happiness 
and prosperity. The soldiers' eyes would light up with 
the glow of hope. More than once even I was caught 
by those eloquent and enticing phrases. The rank and 
file were carried away to an enchanted land by the 
orators and rewarded them with tremendous applause. 

There were speakers of a different kind, too. These 
solemnly appealed for a realization of the immediate 
duty which the revolution imposed upon the shoulders 
of the army. Patriotism was their keynote. They 
called us to defend our country, to be ready at any 
moment for an attack to drive out the Germans and 
win the much-desired victory and peace. The soldiers 
responded to these calls to duty with equal enthusiasm. 
They swore that they were ready. Was there an\ 
doubt that they were ? No. The Russian soldiei 
loved his Mother Country before. He loved her now a 
hundred-fold more. 

The first signs of spring arrived. The rivers had 
opened, the ice fields had thawed. It was muddy, but 
the earth was fragrant. The winds were laden with 
intoxicating odours. They were carrying across the 
vast fields and valleys of Mother Russia tidings of a 
new era. There was spring in our souls. It seemed 
that our long-suffering people and country were being 
restored to a new life and one wanted to live, live, live. 

But there, a few hundred feet away, were the Germans. 
They were not free. Their souls did not commune with 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 141 

God. Their hearts knew not the immense joy of this 
wonderful spring. They were still slaves, and they 
would not let us alone in our freedom. They thrust 
themselves over the fair extent of our country and 
would not retire. They must be driven out before 
we could embark upon a life of peace. We were ready 
to drive them out. We were awaiting the order to 
leap at their throats and show them what Free Russia 
could do. But why was the order postponed ? Why 
wait ? Why not strike while the iron was hot ? 

Yet the iron was allowed to cool. There was a flood 
of talk in the rear ; there was absolute inactivity at the 
front. And as hours grew into days and days into weeks 
there sprang forth out of this inactivity the first begin- 
nings of fraternization. 

" Come over here for a drink of tea ! " a voice from 
our trenches would address itself across No Man's 
Land to the Germans. And voices from there would 
respond : 

" Come over here for a drink of vodka ! " 

For several days they did not go beyond such mutual 
invitations. Then one morning a soldier from our 
ranks advanced openly into No Man's Land, announcing 
that he wanted to talk things over. He stopped in the 
centre of the field, \^here he was met by a German and 
engaged in an argument. From both sides soldiers 
flocked to the debaters. 

" Why do you continue the war ? " asked our men. 
" We have overthrown the Tsar and we want peace, but 
your Kaiser insists on war. Get rid of your Kaiser 
and then both sides will go home." 

" You don't know the truth," answered the German. 
" You are mistaken. Why, our Kaiser offered peace to 
all the Allies last winter. But your Tsar refused to 
make peace. And now your AUies are forcing Russia 



142 YASHKA 

to continue in the war. We are always ready for peace." 

I was with the soldiers in No INIan's Land and saw 
how the German argument impressed them. Some of 
the Germans had brought vodka with them, which they 
gave to our soldiers. While they were returning to the 
positions, engaged in heated arguments over the story 
of the Kaiser's peace offer, Commander Kudriavtzev 
came out to rebuke them. 

*' What are you doing ? Don't you know that the 
Germans are our enemies ? They want to entrap you." 

" Kill him ! " a voice shouted in the crowd. " We 
have been deceived long enough ! Kill him ! " 

The Commander got out of the way quickly before 
the crowd had caught up the shout of the ruffian. This 
iijcident, when the revolution was still in its infancy, was 
an early symptom of the malady to which the Russian 
army succumbed in months to come. It was still an 
easily curable malady. But where was the physician 
with foresight to diagnose the disease at its inception 
and conquer it while there was time ? 

We were relieved and sent to the reserve billets. 
There a mass meeting was organized in honour of a 
delegate from the Army Committee who came to address 
us. He was welcomed by Krylov, one of our most 
enlightened soldiers, who spoke well and to the point. 

" So long as the Germans keep their Kaiser and obey 
him we will not have peace," he declared. " The Kaiser 
wants to rob Russia of many provinces and to enslave 
their populations. The German soldiers do his will 
just as you did the will of the Tsar. Isn't that the 
truth ? " 

"The truth! The truth, indeed! Right!" the 
multitude roared. 

" Now," resumed Krylov, " the Kaiser liked the 
Tsar and was related to him. But the Kaiser does not 



i 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 143 

and cannot love Free Russia. He is afraid that the 
German people will take lesson from us and start a 
revolution in their coimtry. He is, therefore, seeking 
to destroy our freedom because he wants to keep his 
throne. Is this plain ? " 

"Yes! Yes! Good! It's the truth!" shouted 
thousands of throats, cheering wildly for Krylov. 

" Therefore," continued the speaker, " it is our duty 
to defend our country and our precious liberty from the 
Kaiser. If we don't destroy him, he will destroy us. 
If we defeat him, there will be a revolution in his country 
and the German people will get rid of him. Then our 
freedom will be secure. Then we shall go home and 
take possession of all the available land. But we can't 
return home with an enemy at our back. Can we ? " 

"No! No! No! Certainly not!" thundered the 
swaying mass of soldiers. 

" And we can't make peace with a ruler who hates us 
at heart and who was the secret accomplice of the Tsar. 
Isn't this true ? " 

"True! True! True! Hurrah for Krylov !" bawled 
the vast gathering, applauding vigorously. 

Then the delegate from the Army Committee mounted 
the speaker's stooj^. The soldiers were in high spirits, 
thirsting for every word of enlightenment. 

" Comrades ! " the delegate began. " For three years 
we have bled, suffered from hunger and cold, confined 
in the muddy and vermin-infested trenches. Myriads 
of our brethren have been slaughtered, maimed for 
life, taken into captivity. Whose war was it ? The 
Tsar's. He made us fight and perish while he and his 
associates revelled in wealth and luxury. Now the 
Tsar is no more. Why, then, comrades, should we 
continue his war ? Do you want to lay down your 
lives again by thousands ? " 



144. YASIIKA 

" No ! No ! No ! We have had enough of war ! " 
thousands of voices rang out. 

" Well," continued the delegate, " I agree with you. 
We have had enough of war, indeed. You are told 
that our enemy is in front of us. But what about our 
enemies in the rear ? What about the officers who are 
now leaving the front and fleeing to safety ? What 
about the landowners who are holding fast to the large 
estates bestowed on them by former Tsars ? What 
about the bourgeoisie who have sucked our blood for 
generations and grown rich through our sweat and toil ? 
Where are they all now ? What do they want us to 
do ? They want you to fight the enemy here so that 
they, the enemies of the people, can pillage and loot 
in the rear ! So that when you come home, if you live 
to come home, you will find all the land and the wealth 
of the country in their hands ! " 

" It is the truth ! The truth ! He's right ! " inter- 
rupted the vast crowd. 

" Now you have two enemies," resumed the speaker. 
" One is foreign and the other is of your own race. You 
can't fight both at once. If we continue the war the 
enemy at your back will rob you of the freedom, the 
land and the rights that the revolution has won for 
you. Therefore, we must have peace with the Germans 
in order to be able to fight these bourgeois vampires. 
Isn't that so ? " 

" Yes ! Yes ! It's the truth ! It's the truth ! We 
want peace ! We are tired of the war ! " came in a 
chorus from every side. • 

The passions of the soldiers were inflamed. The 
delegate was right, they said. If they remained in 
the trenches they would be robbed of the land and of 
the fruits of the new freedom, they argued heatedly 
among themselves. My heart ached when I saw the 



1 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 145 

effect of the orator's words. All the impression of 
Krylov's speech had been effaced. The very same 
men who so enthusiastically responded to his appeal to 
do their duty now applauded just as fervidly, if not 
more so, the appeal of the delegate for a fratricidal war. 
It maddened me. I could not control myself. 

" You stupid fools ! " I burst out. " You can be 
turned one minute one way and the next minute the 
opposite way. Didn't you cheer Krylov when he said 
truly that the Kaiser was our enemy and that we must 
drive him out of Russia first before we can have peace ? 
And now you have been incited to start a civil war so 
that the Kaiser can simply walk over Russia and get 
the whole country into his power. This is war ! War, 
you understand, war ! And in war there can be no 
compromise with the enemy. Give him an inch and 
he will take a mile ! Coftie, let us get to work. Let us 
fulfil our duty." 

There was a commotion among the soldiers. Some 
expressed their dissatisfaction loudly. 

" Why stand here and listen to this silly baba ? " 
said one. ^ 

" Give her a blow ! " shouted another. 

" Kick her ! " cried a third. 

In a moment I was being roughly handled. Blows 
were showered on me from every side. 

" What are you doing ? Why, it's Yashka ! Have 
you gone crazy ? " I heard a friendly voice appeal to 
the men. Other comrades hurried to my aid and I 
was rescued without suffering much injury. But I 
decided to ask for leave to go home and get away from 
this war without warfare. I would not be thwarted 
by the Commander. No, not this time. 

The following day Michael Rodzianko, the President 
of the Duma, arrived at our sector. We were formed 

L 



146 YASHKA 

for review, and although the men were somewhat lax in 
discipline they made up for it in enthusiasm. Rodzianko 
was given a tumultuous welcome as he appeared before 
the crowd. 

" The responsibility for Russia," he said, " which 
rested before on the shoulders of the Tsar and his Govern- 
ment now rests on the people, on you. This is what 
freedom means. It means that we must, of our own 
good will, defend the country against the foe. It means 
that we must all work together, forget our differences 
and quarrels and present a solid front to the Germans. 
They are subtle and hypocritical. They give you fair 
words but their hearts are full of hatred. They claim 
to be your brothers, but they are your enemies. They 
seek to divide us so that it will be easier for them to 
destroy our liberty and country." 

"True! True! Right! Right! It is so! It is 
so ! " t^e throng voiced its approval. 

" Free Russia will never be secure until the Kaiser's 
soldiers are driven out of Russia," the speaker continued. 
" We must, therefore, prepare for a general offensive 
to win a great victory. We must work together with 
our Allies who are helping us to defeat the Germans. 
We must respect and obey our officers, as there can be 
no army without chiefs, just as there can be no flock with- 
out a shepherd." 

" Correct ! Correct ! Well said ! It's the truth ! 
It's the truth ! " the soldiers shouted from every corner. 

" Now, my friends, tell me what you think of launch- 
ing an attack against the enemy ?" asked the President 
of the Duma. " Are you ready to advance and die, if 
necessary, to secure our precious freedom ? " 

" Yes, we are ! We will go ! " thundered the thou- 
sands present. 

Then Orlov, the chairman of the Regimental Com- 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 147 

jiiittee, a man of education, rose to answer for the rank 
and file. He expressed what all of us at the front had 
in our minds : 

" Yes, we are ready to strike. But we want those 
millions of soldiers in the rear, who spread all over the 
country, overflowing the cities, overcrowding air the 
railroads and doing nothing, to be sent back to the 
front. Let us advance all together. The time for 
speeches has passed. We want action, or we will go 
home." 

Comrade Orlov was boisterously acclaimed. Indeed, 
he said what we all so keenly felt. It wasn't just to the 
men in the trenches to allow hundreds of thousands of 
their comrades to keep holiday in the rear without 
interruption. Rodzianko agreed with us. He would 
do his best to remedy this injustice, he promised. But, 
privately, in reply to the insistent questions of the 
officers why the golden opportunity for an offensive 
was being wasted, he confessed that the Provisional 
Government and^the Duma were powerless. 

"It is the Soviet, Kerensky and its other leading 
spirits, who have the decision in such matters," he said. 
" They are shaping the policy of the country. I have 
urged them not to delay, but to order a general attack 
immediately." 

Chairman Orlov then presented me to Rodzianko 
with a little speech in which he recounted my record 
since the beginning of the war. The President of the 
Duma was greatly surprised and moved. 

" I want to bend the knee to this woman," he said, 
shaking my hand warmly. He then asked what was my 
feeling about conditions at the front. I gave vent to 
the bitterness that was in my heart. 

" I can't stand this new order of things. The soldiers 
don't fight the Germans any more. My object in 



148 YASHKA 

joining the army was to defend the country. Now, it 
is impossible to do so. There is nothing left for me, 
therefore, but to go away." 

" But where shall you go ? " he asked. 

" I don't know. I suppose I shall go home. My 
father is old, and my mother is ailing, and they are 
almost reduced to begging for bread." 

Rodzianko patted me on the shoulder. 

" Come to me in Petrograd, little heroine, and I will 
see what I can do for you." 

I joyfully accepted the invitation, and told my com- 
rades that I should be leaving soon. I was provided 
with a new outfit and one hundred roubles by the Com- 
mander. The news spread that Yashka was going 
away and about a thousand soldiers, many of whose 
lives I had saved in battle, presented me with a testi- 
monial. 

A thousand signatures ! They were all the names 
of dear comrades who were attached to me by ties of 
fire and blood. There was a record, on that long scroll, 
of every battle which we had fought and of every episode 
of life-saving and self-sacrifice in which I had taken 
part. It made my heart beat witli joy and my eyes 
fill with tears, while deep in my soul something ached 
and yearned. 

It was May, but there was autumn in my breast. 
There was autunm also in the heart of Mother-Russia. 
The sunshine was dazzling. The fields and the forests 
rioted in all the glories of spring. There was peace in 
the trenches, calm in No Man's Land. My country 
was still celebrating joyously the festival of the newly- 
born Freedom. It was scarcely two months old, this 
child of generations of pain and suffering. It came into 
being with the first warm wind, and how deep were the 
forces that it aroused in us, how infinite the promises 



THE REVOLUTION AT THE FRONT 140 

it carried ! My people still entertained the wonderful 
illusions of those first days. It was spring, the beginning 
of eternal spring to them. 

But my heart pined. All joy was dead in it. I 
heard the autumn winds howling. I felt instinctively 
an immense tragedy developing, and my soul went out 
to Mother Russia. 

The entire Regiment was formed in line so that I 
could bid them farewell. I addressed them as follows : 

" You know how I love you, how I have cared for 
you. Who picked you up on the field of battle ? 
Yashka. Who dressed your wounds under fire ? 
Yashka. Who braved with you all dangers and shared 
with you all privations ? A baba, Yashka. I bore with 
your insults and rejoiced in your caresses. I knew how 
to receive them both, because I knew your souls. I 
could endure an^/thing with you, but I cannot endure 
this any longer. I cannot bear fraternization with the 
enemy. I cannot bear these incessant meetings. I 
cannot bear this endless chain of orators and their 
empty phrases. It is time to act. The time for talk 
is gone. Otherwise, it will be too late. Our country 
and freedom are perishing. 

" Nevertheless, I love you and want to part from you 
as a friend." 

Here I stopped. I could not go on. My comrades 
gave me a hearty good-bye. They were sorry, very 
sorry, to lose me, they said, but of course I was entitled 
to my opinion of the situation. They assured me that 
they respected me as ever and that, when they had been 
at home on leave, they had always told their mothers to 
pray for me. And they swore that they would always 
be ready to lay down their lives for me. 

The Commander placed his carriage at my disposal 
to go to the railway station. A delegate from the 



150 YASHKA 

Regiment was leaving the same day for Petrograd, and 
we went together. As the horses started, tearing me 
away from the men, who clasped my hands and wished 
me luck and God-speed, something tore a big hole in my 
heart, and the world seemed desolate. . . . 



CHAPTER XI 

I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 

THE journey to Petrograd was uneventful. The 
train was crowded to overflowing with returning 
soldiers who engaged in arguments day and night. I 
was drawn into one such debate. Peace was the subject 
of all discussion!, immediate peace. 

" But how can you have peace while the Germans 
are occupying parts of Russia ? " I broke in. " We 
must win a victory first or our country will be lost." 

" Ah, she is for the old regime. She wants the Tsar 
back," murmured some soldiers threateningly. 

The delegate accompanying me here advised me to 
keep silence if I wanted to arrive safely in Petrograd. 
I followed his advice. He left me at the station when 
we got to the capital. It was in the afternoon, and I 
had never been in Petrograd before. With the address 
of Rodzianko on my lips I went about making inquiries 
how to go there. I was directed to take a tram, the 
first I had ever ridden in. 

About five in the afternoon I found myself in front 
of a big house. For a moment I lost courage. " What 
if he has forgotten me ? He may not be at home and 
nobody will know anything about me." I wanted to 
retreat, but where could I go ? I knew no one in the 
city. Plucking up courage, I rang the bell and awfiited 
the opening of the door with a trembling heart. A 

151 



l.-;2 YASHKA 

servant came out and I pave my name, with the infor- 
mation that I had just arrived from tlic front to see 
Rodzianko. I was taken up in a Hft, a new experience 
to nie, and was met by tlie secretary of the President. He 
greeted me warmly, saying that he liad (^xpccticl me, 
and invited me to make myself at home. 

President Rodzianko then aj)peared, exclaiming cor- 
dially : 

" My little heroine ! I am glad you have eome," and 
he kissed me on the cheek. He then presented me to 
his wife as his little heroine, pointing to my military 
decorations. She was very cordial and generous in 
her praise. " You have come just in time for dinner," 
she said, leading me into her dressing-room to remove 
the dust of the journey. This warm reception cheered 
me greatly. 

At the table the convcrsaliou luriicd <>u \hv state of 
affairs at the front. Asked to tell of the latest develop- 
ments, I said, as nearly as I can remember : 

"• The agitation to leave the trenches and go home is 
growing. If there is not an iunuediate offensive, all 
is lost. The soldiers will disperse. It is also an urgent 
necessity to send back to the fighting line the troops noAv 
scattered in the rear." 

Rodzianko answered as nearly as I can remember 
as follows : 

" Orders have been given to many units in the rear 
to go to the front. All have not obeyed, however. 
There have been deiiKuistrations and protests on the 
part of several troops, due to Rolshevist propaganda." 

That was the first time I ever heard of the Bolsheviks. 
It was May, 1917. 

'' Who are they ? " I asked. 

" They are a group led by one Lenin, who has just 
returned from abroad by way of Germany, and Trotzky, 



T OT^OANTZE TTTE BATTALION OF DEATH 1 58 

Ivolonljii :u)i\. oIIkt politicjil exiles. 'i'\n'y atl;<'H(l IIk; 
meetings of the Soviet at the 1'auri(hi I'uluee, in wliic;!! 
Ilie Duma meets, stir up class-bitterness and demand 
irtiinediate peace." 

1 was further asked how Kerensky then stood with the 
s(>l(Jiers, being informed that he had just left for a tour 
of the front. 

' ' Kerensky is very popular. In fact, the most popular 
man with the men at the front. The men will do any- 
lliing for him," I replied. 

Rodzianko then related an incident which made us 
:ill laugh. There was an old porter in the Government 
f)flie(!s who had serv^'d many Ministers of thx; Tsar. 
Kerensky, it appeared, made it a habit to shake hands 
with everybody. S(j that whenctver he entered his office; 
lii^sliook liandswith tlieold pf)rter, thus quickly becoming 
tiie laugliing-stock of the servants. 

" Now, what kind of a Minister is it," the old porter 
was overheard complaining to a fellow-servant, "who 
sfiakes hands with me ? " 

After dinner Rodzianko took me i.o tli(; Taurida 
Palace, where he introduced me to a gatlutring of sol(li(!rs' 
delegates, then in session. I was warmly welcomed and 
<,M ven a prominent scat. The speakers gave descrif)tion s of 
eonditions at various sections of thx; front that tallied 
'xactly with my own observations. Discipline was 
;one, fraternization was on the increase, the agitation 
If) leave the tr(;nches was gaining strength. Something 
must be done quickly, th(;y argued. How could the 
men be kept up to the mark till the moment when an 
offensive should Ixt ordered ? That was the probler^i. 

Rodzianko arose and proposed that I should be asked 
to suggest a solution. He told them that I was a peasant 
who had volunteered early in the war and fought and 
siiff(;red with tlie men. Therefore, he thought, I ought 



154 YASHKA 

to know what was the right thing to do. Naturally, I 
was very much embarrassed. I was totally unprepared 
to make any suggestions and, therefore, begged to be 
excused until I had thought the matter over. 

The session continued, while I sank deep into thought. 
For half an hour I racked my brain in vain. Then 
suddenly an idea dawned upon me. It was the idea of 
a Women's Battalion of Death. 

" You have heard of what I have done and endured 
as a soldier," I said, rising to my feet and turning to 
the audience. " Now, how would it do to organize three 
hundred women like myself to serve as an example to 
the army and lead the men into battle ? " 

Rodzianko approved of my idea. " Provided," he 
added, " we could find hundreds more like Maria Botch- 
kareva, which I greatly doubt." 

To this objection I replied that numbers were imma- 
terial, that what was important was to shame the men, 
and that a few women at one place could serve as an 
example to the entire front. *' It would be necessary 
that the women's organization should have no com- 
mittees and be run on the regular army basis in order 
to enable it to help towards the restoration of discipline," 
I further explained. 

Rodzianko thought my suggestion splendid and 
dwelt upon the enthusiasm that would inevitably be 
kindled among the men if women should occupy some 
of the trenches and take the lead in an offensive. 

There were objections, however, from the audience. 
One delegate got up and said : 

" None of us can take exception to a soldier like Botch- 
kareva. The men at the front know her and have heard 
of her deeds. But who will guarantee that the other 
women will be as decent as she and will not dishonour 
the army ? " 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 155 

Another delegate remarked : 

"Who will guarantee that the presence of women 
soldiers at the front will not lead to the birth there 
of little soldiers ? " 

There was a general uproar at this criticism. I re- 
plied : 

" If I take up the organization of a women's battalion, 
I will hold myself responsible for every member of it. 
I will introduce rigid discipline and will allow no speech- 
making and no loitering in the streets. When Mother- 
Russia is drowning it is not a time to run an army by 
committees. I am a common peasant myself, and I 
know that only discipline can save the Russian Army. 
In the proposed battalion I should exercise absolute 
authority and insist upon obedience. Otherwise, there 
would be no use in organizing it." 

There were no objections to the conditions which I 
outlined as preliminary to the establishment of such a 
unit. Still, I never expected that the Government 
would consider the matter seriously and permit me to 
carry out the idea, although I was informed that it 
would be submitted to Kerensky upon his return from 
the front. 

President Rodzianko took a deep interest in the pro- 
ject. He introduced me to Captain Dementiev, Com- 
mandant of the Home for Invalids, asking him to place a 
room or two at my disposal and generally take care of me. 
I went home with the Captain, who presented me to his 
wife, a dear and patriotic woman who soon became 
very much attached to me. 

The following morning Rodzianko telephoned, sug- 
gesting that before the matter was broached to the War 
Minister, Kerensky, it would be wise to take it up with 
the Commander-in-Chief, General Brusilov, who could 
judge it from the point of view of the army. If he 



156 YASHKA , 

approved of it, it would be easier to obtain Kerensky's 
permission. 

General Headquarters were then at Moghilev and 
there we went, Captain Dementiev and I, to obtain 
an audience with the Commander-in-Chief. We were 
received by his Adjutant on the 14th of May. He 
announced our arrival and purpose to General 
Brusilov, who ordered that we should be shown 
in. 

Hardly a week had elapsed since I left the front, and 
here I was again, this time not in the trenches, however, 
but in the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. It was 
a very sudden metamorphosis and I could not help won- 
dering, deep in my soul, over the strange ways of for- 
tune. Brusilov shook hands with us cordially. He 
was interested in the idea, he said. Wouldn't we sit 
down ? We did. Wouldn't I tell him about myself 
and my ideas concerning the scheme ? 

I told him about my soldiering and my leaving the 
front because I could not reconcile myself to the pre- 
vailing conditions. I explained that the purpose of 
the plan would be to shame the men in the trenches by 
letting them see the women go over the top first. The 
Commander-in-Chief then discussed the matter from 
various points of view with Captain Dementiev and 
approved of my idea. He bade us adieu, expressing his 
hope for the success of my enterprise, and, in a happy 
frame of mine, I- left for Petrograd. 

Kerensky had returned from the front. We called 
on Rodzianko and told him of the result of our mission. 
He informed us that he had already asked for an audience 
with Kerensky and that the latter wanted to see him 
at seven o'clock the following morning, when he would 
broach the subject to him. After his call on Kerensky, 
Rodzianko telephoned to tell us that he had arranged 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 157 

for an audience for me with Kerensky at the Winter 
Palace at noon the next day. 

Captain Dementiev drove nie to the Winter Palace, 
and a few minutes before twelve I was in the antecham- 
ber of the War Minister. I was surprised to find General 
Brusilov there, and he asked me if I had come to see 
Kerensky about the scheme I had discussed with him. 
I replied that I had. He offered to support my idea 
with the War Minister, and introduced me to General 
Polovtzev, Commander of the Petrograd Military Dis- 
trict, who was with him. 

Suddenly the dooi" swung open and a young face, 
with eyes inflamed from sleeplessness, beckoned to me 
to come in. It was Kerensky, at that moment the idol 
of the masses. One of his arms was in a sling. With the 
other he shook my hand. He walked about nervously 
and talked briefly and dryly. He told me that he had 
heard about me and was interested in my idea. I then 
outlined to him the purpose of the project, saying that 
there would be no committees, but regular discipline in 
the battalion of women. 

Kerensky listened impatiently. He had evidently 
made up his mind on the subject. There was only one 
point of which he was not sure. Would I be able to 
maintain a high standard of morality in the organiza- 
tion ? He would allow me to recruit it immediately if 
I made myself answerable for the conduct and reputation 
of the women. I pledged myself to do so. And it was 
all settled. I was granted the authority there and then 
to form a unit under the name of The First Russian 
Women's Battalion of Death. 

It seemed unbelievable. A few days ago it had 
dawned upon me as a mere fancy. Now the dream was 
adopted as a practical policy by the highest in authority. 
I was in ecstasy. As Kerensky showed me out his 



158 YASHKA 

eyes fell on General Polovtzev. He asked him to give 
me all neeessary help. I was overwhelmed with happi- 
ness. 

A brief consultation took place immediately between 
Captain Dcmentiev and General Polovtzev, who made 
the following suggestion : 

" Why not start at the meeting to be held to-morrow 
night in the Mariynski Theatre for the benefit of the 
Home ? Kerensky, Rodzianko, Tchkheidze, and 
others will speak there. Let us put Botehkareva 
between Rodzianko and Kerensky on the programme." 

I was seized with nervousness and objected strenuously 
that I could never appear in public and that I should 
not know what to talk about. 

" You will tell them just what you told Rodzianko, 
Brusilov and Kerensky. Just tell them how you feel 
about the front and the country," they said, making light 
of my objections. 

Before I had time to realize it I was already in a 
photographer's studio, and there had my portrait taken. 
The following day this picture appeared at the head of 
big posters pasted all over the city, announcing my i 
appearance at the Mariynski Theatre for the purpose of 
organizing a Women's Battalion of Death. 

I did not close an eye during the entire night preceding 
the evening fixed for the meeting. It all seemed a 
fantastic dream. How could I take my place between 
two such great men as Rodzianko and Kerensky ? How 
could I ever face an assembly of educated people, I, an 
ilhterate peasant woman ? And what could I say ? My 
tongue had never been trained to elegant speech. My 
eyes had never beheld a place like the Mariynski Theatre, 
formerly frequented by the Tsar and the Imperial 
family. I tossed in bed in a state of fever. 

"Holy Father," I prayed, my eyes streaming with 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 159 

tears, " show Thy humble servant the path to truth. I 
am afraid ; instil courage into my heart. I can feel my 
knees give way ; steady them with Thy strength. My 
mind is groping in the dark ; illumine it with Thy light. 
My speech is but the common talk of an ignorant baba ; 
make it flow with Thy wisdom and penetrate the hearts 
of my hearers. Do all this, not for the sake of Thy 
humble Maria, but for the sake of Mother Russia, my 
unhappy country." 

My eyes were red with inflammation when I arose in 
the morning. I was nervous all day. Captain Demen- 
tiev suggested that I should commit my speech to 
memory. I refused his suggestion with the remark : 

" I have placed my trust in God and rely on Him to 
put the right words into my mouth." 

It was the evening of May 21, 1917. I was driven 
to the Mariynski Theatre and escorted by Captain De- 
mentiev and his wife into the former Imperial box. The 
house was packed, the receipts of the ticket office amount- 
ing to thirty thousand roubles. Everybody seemed to 
be pointing at me, and it was with great difficulty that I 
controlled my nerves. 

Kerensky appeared and was given a tremendous recep- 
tion. He spoke only about ten minutes. Next on the 
programme was Madame Kerensky, and I was to follow 
her. Madame Kerensky, however, broke down as soon 
as she found herself confronted by the audience. That 
did not add to my courage. I was led forward as if in a 
trance. 

" Men and women citizens ! " I heard my voice say. 
" Our mother is perishing. Our mother is Russia. I 
want to help to save her. I want women whose hearts are 
loyal, whose souls are pure, whose aims are high. 
With such women setting an example of self-sacrifice, 
you men will realize your duty in this grave hour ! " 



ICO YASHKA 

Then I stopped and could not proceed. Sobs choked 
the words in me, tremors shook me, my legs grew weak. 
I was caught under the arm and led away amid a thunder- 
ous outburst of applause. 

Registration of volunteers for the Battalion from 
among those present took place the same evening, there 
and then. So 'great was the enthusiasm that fifteen 
hundred women applied for enlistment. It was neces- 
sary to put quarters at my immediate disposal and it 
was decided to let me have the building and grounds of 
the Kolomensk Women's Institute, and I directed the 
women to come there on the morrow, when they would be 
examined and officially enlisted. 

The newspapers contained accounts of the meeting and 
the publicity which it gained helped to swell the number 
of women who volunteered to join the Battalion of Death 
to two thousand. They were gathered in the garden 
of the Institute, all in a state of jubilation. I arrived 
with Staff-Captain Kuzmin, assistant to General Polov- 
tzev. Captain Dementiev and General Anosov, who was 
introduced to me as a man very interested in my idea. 
He looked about fifty years of age and was of impressive 
appearance. He wanted to help me, he explained. In 
addition, there was about a score of journalists. I 
mounted a table in the centre of the garden and addressed 
the women in the following manner : 

" Women do you know what I have called you here 
for ? Do you realize clearly the task lying ahead of you ? 
Do you know what war is ? War ! Look into your 
hearts, examine your souls and see if you can stand 
the great test. 

" At a time when our country is perishing it is the duty 
of all of us to rise to its succour. The morale of our men 
has fallen low, and it is for us women to serve as an 
inspiration to them. But only such women as have 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 161 

entirely sacrificed their own personal interests and affairs 
can do this. 

" Woman is naturally light-hearted. But if she can 
purge herself for sacrifice, then through a kindly word, 
a loving heart and an example of heroism she can 
save the Motherland. We are physically weak, but if we 
be strong morally and spiritually we shall accomplish 
more than a large force. 

" I will have no committees in the Battalion. There 
will be strict discipline, and any offence will be severely 
punished. There will be punishment for even slight 
acts of disobedience. No flirtations will be allowed, and 
any attempts at them will be punished by expulsion 
and sending home under arrest. It is the purpose of this 
Battalion to restore discipline in the army. It must, 
therefore, be irreproachable in character. Now, are you 
willing to enlist under such conditions ? " 

" Yes, we are ! we are ! we are ! " the women re- 
sponded in a chorus. 

" I will now ask those of you who accept my terms to 
sign a pledge, binding you to obey any order of Botch- 
kareva. I warn you that I am stern by nature, that I 
shall personally punish any misdemeanour, that I shall 
demand absolute obedience. Those of you who hesitate 
had better not sign the pledge. There will now be a 
medical examination." 

There were nearly two thousand signed pledges. They 
included names of members of some of the most illus- 
trious families in the country, as well as those of common 
peasant girls and domestic servants. The physical 
examination, conducted by ten doctors, some of whom 
were women, was not ruled by the same standard as that 
in the case of the men. There were, naturally, very few 
perfect specimens of health among the women. But we 
rejected only those suffering from serious ailments. 

M 



162 YASHKA 

Altogether there were about thirty rejections. Those 
accepted were allowed to go home with instructions to 
return on the following day when they would be quar- 
tered permanently in the Institute and begin training. 

It was necessary to obtain outfits, and I applied for 
these to General Polovtzev, Commander of the Military 
District of Petrograd. The same evening two thousand 
complete outfits were delivered at my headquarters. I 
also asked General Polovtzev for twenty-five men instruc- 
tors, who should be well disciplined, able to maintain 
good order and acquainted with every detail of military 
training, so as to be able to complete the course of 
instruction in two weeks. He sent me twenty-five 
officers of all grades from the Volynski Regiment. 

Then there was the question of supplies. Were we 
to have our own kitchen ? It was found more expedient 
not to establish one of our own but to make use of the 
kitchen of a guard regiment, stationed not far from our 
quarters. The ration was that of regular troops, consist- 
ing of two pounds of bread, cabbage soup, kasha (gruel), 
sugar and tea. I would send a company at a time, 
provided with pails, to fetch their meals. 

On the morning of May 26 all the recruits gathered 
in the grounds of the Institute. I had them placed in 
rows, so as to arrange them according to their height, and '] 
divided the whole body into two battalions of approxi- 
mately one thousand each. Each battalion was divided 
into four companies, and each company subdivided into 
four platoons. There was a man instructor in command 
of every platoon, and in addition there was an officer 
in command of every company, so that altogether I had 
to increase the number of men instructors to forty. 

I addressed the women again, informing them that 
from the moment that they entered upon their duties 
they were no longer women, but soldiers. I told them 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 163 

that they would not be allowed to leave the grounds, and 
that only between six and eight in the evening would 
they be permitted to receive relatives and friends. From 
among the more intelligent recruits — and there were 
many university graduates in the ranks — I selected a 
number for promotion to platoon and company officers, 
their duties being limited to the domestic supervision 
of the troop, since the men commanders were purely 
instructors, returning to their barracks at the end of the 
day's work. 

Next I marched the recruits to four barbers' shops, 
where from five in the morning to twelve at noon a 
number* of barbers cut short the hair of one woman after 
another. Crowds outside the shops watched this unaccus- 
tomed proceeding, greeting with jeers each woman as she 
emerged, with hair close cropped and perhaps with an 
aching heart, from the barber's saloon. 

The same afternoon my soldiers received their first 
lessons in the large garden. A recruit was detailed to 
stand guard at the gate and not to admit anybody 
without the permission of the officer in charge. The 
watch was changed every two hours. A high fence 
surrounded the grounds, and the drilling went on without 
interference. Giggling was strictly forbidden, and I kept 
a sharp watch over the women. I had about thirty of 
them dismissed without ceremony the first day. Some 
were expelled for too much laughing, others for frivolities. 
Several of them threw themselves at my feet, begging 
for mercy. However, I made up my mind that without 
severity I might just as well give up my project at the 
beginning. If my word was to carry weight, it must be 
final and unalterable, I decided. How could one other- 
wise expect to manage two thousand women ? As soon 
as one of them disobeyed an order I quickly removed 
her uniform and sent her away. In this work it was 



164 YASHKA 

quality and not quantity that counted, and I determined 
if necessary to dismiss without scruple several hundreds 
of the recruits. 

We received five hundred rifles for training purposes, 
sufficient only for a quarter of the force. This necessi- 
tated the elaboration of a method whereby the supply 
of rifles could be made use of by the entire body. It was 
thought well that the members of the Battalion of Death 
should be distinguished by special insignia. We, there- 
fore, devised new epaulets : white, with a red and black 
stripe. A red and black arrowhead was to be attached to 
the right arm. I ordered two thousand such insignia. 

When evening came and the hour for going to bed 
arrived, the women ignored the order to turn in for the 
night at ten o'clock and continued chatting and laughing. 
I reproved the officer in charge, threatening to place her 
at attention for six hours in the event of the soldiers 
keeping awake after ten . Fifty of the women I punished 
forthwith by ordering them to remain at attention for 
two hours. To the rest I said : 

" Every one of you to bed this instant ! I want you 
to be so quiet that I could hear a fly buzz. To-morrow 
you will be up at five o'clock." 

I spent a sleepless night. There were many things 
to think about and many difficulties to overcome. 

At five only the officer in charge was up. Not a soul 
stirred in the barrack. The officer reported to me that 
she had twice ordered the women to get up, but none 
of them moved. I came out and in a voice of thunder^ 
ordered : 

" Vstavai ! " * 

Frightened and sleepy, my recruits left their beds. 
As soon as they had finished dressing and washing there | 
was a summons to prayer. I made praying a daily 
» Get up. 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 165 

duty. Breakfast followed, consisting of tea and bread. 

At eight I had issued an order that the companies 
should all be formed into ranks ready for review in fifteen 
minutes. I came out, passed each company, greeting it. 
The company would answer in a chorus : 

" Good health to you, Commander." 

Training was resumed, and I continued the combing- 
out process. As soon as I observed a girl making eyes at 
an instructor, behaving frivolously, and generally neg- 
lecting her work, I quickly ordered her to take off her uni- 
form and go home. In this manner I weeded out about 
fifty on the second day. I could not insist too strongly 
on the burden of reponsibility I carried. I constantly 
appealed to the women for the utmost seriousness in 
facing the task that lay before us. The Battalion must 
either be a success or I must become the laughing-stock 
of the country, at the same time bringing disgrace upon 
those who had supported my idea. I admitted no new 
applicants, because rapid completion of the course of 
training so as to be able to dispatch the Battalion to the 
front was of the greatest importance. 

For several days the drilling went on, and the women 
mastered the rudiments of a soldier's training. On 
several occasions I resorted to slapping as punishment for 
misbehaviour. 

One day the sentry reported to the officer in charge 
that two women, one a famous Englishwoman, wanted to 
see me. I ordered the Battalion to remain at attention 
while I received the two callers, who were Emmeline 
Pankhurst and Princess Kikuatova, the latter of whom 
I knew. 

Mrs. Pankhurst was introduced to me, and I ordered 
the Battalion to salute " the eminent visitor who had 
done m.uch for women and her country." Mrs. Pank- 
hurst became a frequent visitor of the Battalion, watch- 



166 YASHKA 

ing it with deep interest as it grew into a well-disciplined 
military unit. We became very much attached to each 
other. Mrs. Pankhurst invited me to a dinner at the 
Astoria, the leading hotel in Petrograd, at which 
Kerensky and the various Allied representatives in the 
capital were to be present. 

Meanwhile, the Battalion was making rapid progress. 
At first we suffered little annoyance. The Bolshevik 
agitators did not take the project seriously, expecting it 
to come to a speedy end. At the beginning I received 
only about thirty threatening letters. Gradually, how- 
ever, it became known that I maintained the strictest 
discipline, commanding without a committee ; and the 
propagandists began to regard me as a danger, and 
sought a means for the frustration of my scheme. 

On the evening appointed for the dinner I went to the 
Astoria. There Kerensky was very cordial to me. He 
told me that the Bolsheviks were preparing a demonstra- 
tion against the Provisional Government and that at 
first the Petrograd garrison had consented to organize 
a demonstration in favour of the Government. Later, 
however, the garrison had decided not to march. The 
War Minister then asked me if I would march with the 
Battalion in support of the Provisional Government. 

I gladly accepted the invitation. Kerensky told nic 
that the Women's Battalion had already exerted a 
beneficial influence, that several bodies of troops had 
expressed a willingness to leave for the front, that man\ 
of the wounded had organized themselves for the purpos( 
of going to the fighting line, declaring that if women 
could fight, then they — the cripples — would do so, too. 
Finally he expressed his belief that the announcement 
of the marching of the Battalion of Death would stimu- 
late the garrison to follow suit. 

It was a pleasant evening that I spent at the Astoria. 



I ORGANIZE THE BATTALION OF DEATH 167 

Upon leaving, an acquaintance who was going in the 
same direction offered to drive me to the Institute. I 
accepted the invitation, alighting, however, at a little 
distance from headquarters, as I did not wish him to 
drive out of his way. It was about eleven o'clock when 
I approached the temporary barrack. There was a 
small crowd at the gate, about thirty-five men, of all 
descriptions, soldiers, roughs, vagrants, and even some 
decent looking fellows. 

" Who are you ? What are you doing here ? " I 
questioned sharply. 

" Commander," cried the sentry, " they are waiting 
for you. They have been here more than an hour ; they 
broke through the gate and have been searching the 
grounds and the house for you. When they became 
convinced that you were away they decided to wait here 
for your return." 

" Well, what do you want ? " I demanded of the group 
as they surrounded me. 

" What do we want, eh ? We want you to disband 
the Battalion. We have had enough of this discipline. 
Enough blood has been shed. We don't want any more 
armies and militarism. You are only creating new 
troubles for the common people. Disband your Bat- 
talion and we will leave you alone." 

" I will not disband ! " was my answer. 

Several of them pulled out revolvers and threatened 
to kill me. The sentry raised an alarm and all the 
women appeared at the windows, many of them with 
their rifles ready. 

"Listen," a couple of them argued again, "you are 
of the people and we only want the weal of the common 
man. We want peace, not war. And you are inciting 
to war again. We have had enough war, too much war. 
We now understand the uselessness of war. Surely you 



168 YASHKA 

don't like to see the poor people slaughtered for the sake 
of the few rich. Come, join our side, and let us all work 
for peace." 

" You are scoundrels ! " I shouted with all my 
strength. " You are idiots ! I myself am for peace, but 
we shall never have peace till we have driven the 
Germans out of Russia. They will make slaves of us and 
ruin our country and our freedom. You are traitors ! " 

Suddenly I was kicked violently in the back. Some 
one dealt me a second blow from the side. 

" Fire ! " I shouted to my girls at the windows as I 
was knocked down, mindful that I had instructed them 
always to shoot in the air first as a warning. 

Several hundred rifles rang out in a volley. My assail- 
ants quickly dispersed, and I was safe. However, 
they returned during the night and stoned the windows, 
breaking every pane of glass fronting the street. 



CHAPTER XII 

MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 

IT was after midnight when I entered the barracks. 
The officer in charge reported to me the events 
of the evening. It appeared that at first one of the 
group, a Bolshevik agitator, had made his way inside 
by telHng the sentry that he had been sent by me for 
something. As soon as he was admitted he got the 
women together and began a speech, appeahng to them to 
form a committee and govern themselves, in accordance 
with the new spirit. He scoffed at them for submitting 
to the system of discipline which I had estabhshed, 
calling it Tsaristic, and expressing his compassion for 
the poor girls whom I had punished. Declaiming against 
the war, appealing for peace at any price, he urged my 
recruits to act as free citizens, depose their reactionary 
chief and elect a new one in democratic fashion. 

The result of the address was a split in the ranks of my 
Battalion. More than half of them approved of the 
speaker, crying: "We are free. This is not the old 
regime. We want to be independent. We want to 
exercise our own rights." And they seceded from the 
troop, and finding themselves in the majority after 
taking votes, elected a committee. 

I was deeply agitated, and in spite of the late hour 
ordered the girls to form into ranks. As soon as this 
was accomplished I addressed the following command to 
the body : 

169 



170 YASHKA 

*' Those who want a committee move over to the right. 
Those who are against it go to the left." 

The majority went to the right. Only about three 
hundred stood at the left. 

" Now those of you who are willing to be treated by 
me as you have been treated hitherto, to receive punish- 
ment when necessary, to maintain the severest possible 
discipline in the Battalion and to be ruled without a 
committee, say yes," I exclaimed. 

The group of three hundred on the left shouted in a 
chorus : " Yes, we consent ! We are willing, Com- 
mander." 

Turning to the silent crowd on the right I said : 

" Why did you join ? I told you beforehand that it 
would be hard. Did you not sign pledges to obey ? I 
want action, not phrases. Committees paralyse action 
by a flood of words." 

" We are not slaves ; we are free women," many of 
the mutineers shouted. " This is not the old regime. 
We want more courteous treatment, more liberty. We 
want to govern our own affairs like the rest of the 
army." 

" Ah, you foolish women ! " I answered with a sorrow- 
ing heart. " I did not organize this Battalion to be like 
the rest of the army. We were to serve as an example, 
and not merely to add a few babas to the ineffectual 
millions of soldiers now swarming over Russia. We were 
to strike out a new path and not imitate the demoralized 
army. Had I known what stviff you were made of, I 
would not have had anything to do with you. Consider, 
we were to lead in a general attack. Now, suppose ^^(■ 
had a committee and the moment for the offensive 
arrived. Then the committee suddenly decides not to 
advance and our whole scheme is brought to nt)- 
thing." 



MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 171 

" Certainly," the rebels shouted. " We should want 
to decide for ourselves whether to attack or not." 

" Well," I said, turning to them in disgust, " you are 
not worthy of the uniforms you are wearing. This uni- 
form stands for noble sacrifice, for unselfish patriotism, 
for purity and honour and loyalty. Every one of you 
is a disgrace to the uniform. Take it off and leave this 
place." 

My order was met by an outburst of scoffing and 
defiance. 

" We are in the majority. We refuse to obey your 
orders. We no longer recognize your authority. We 
will elect a new chief ! " 

I was deeply hurt, but I controlled myself so as not to 
act rashly. I resolved to make another appeal to them, 
and said : 

" You will elect no new chief. But if you want to 
go, go quietly. Make no scandal, for the sake of woman- 
hood. If all this becomes public it will injure and 
humiliate all of us. Men will say that women are unfit 
for serious work, that they do not know how to carry 
through an enterprise and that they cannot help quarrel- 
ling. We shall become a byword all over the world and 
your act will be an eternal blot on our sex." 

" But why are you so cruel and harsh to us ? " the 
rebels began to argue again. " Why do you treat us as 
ifwewereina prison, allowing us no holidays, giving us 
no opportunity to go for walks, always shouting and 
ordering us about ? You want to make us slaves." 

" I told you at the beginning that I should be strict, 
that I should shout and punish. As to not letting you out 
of the grounds, you know that I do it because I cannot 
be sure of your conduct outside. I wanted this house 
to be a holy place. I prayed to God to hallow us all 
with His chastity. I wished you to go to the front as 



17'2 YASHKA 

saintly women, hoping that the enemy's bullets would 
not touch you." 

All night an argument raged between the three hun- 
dred loyal women and the mutineers. I retired, leaving 
instructions with the officers to let the rebels do as they 
pleased, even to leave in their uniforms. I was filled 
with despair as I reflected on the outcome of my enter- 
prise. My soul ached for all women as I thought of the 
disgraceful conduct of the girls who had pledged their 
honour on behalf of an idea and then deserted the banner 
they had themselves raised. 

In the morning I was informed that the rebels had 
elected a deputation to go to General Polovtzev, Com- 
mander of the Military District, to make complaint 
against me, and that they had all departed in uniform. 
The same day I was called to report to General Polov- 
tzev on the whole matter. The General advised me to 
meet some of the demands of the rebels and come to 
terms. 

" The whole army is now being run by committees of 
soldiers. You alone cannot preserve the old system. 
Let your girls form a committee so that a scandal will * 
be averted and your great work thereby saved," General 
Polovtzev tried to persuade me. But I would not be 
persuaded. 

He then went on to tell me that the soldiers of the 
First and Tenth Armies, having heard of my work, had 
bought for me two icons, one of the Holy Mother and 
the other of Saint George, both of silver, framed in gold. 
They had telegraphed instructions to embroider two 
standards with appropriate inscriptions. Kerensky, the 
General told me, had thought of making the presenta- 
tion a solemn occasion and had had my record in the 
army fully investigated, after which he had decided to 
buy a gold cross to present to me at the same time. 



MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 173 

" Now what will become of this ceremony if you do 
not pacify your women ? " the General asked. 

I was, naturally, flattered by what Polovtzev told 
me, but I considered that duty came first and that I 
must not give in for the sake of the honours promised 
to me, in spite of the assurances he gave me that he 
would order the women to ask my pardon if I consented 
to form a committee. 

" I would not keep the rebels in the Battalion for any- 
thing," I said. " Once having been insulted by them, 
I shall always consider them prejudicial to the organiza- 
tion. They would sap my strength here and would 
disgrace me at the front. The purpose of the Battalion 
was to set an example to the demoralized men. Give 
them a committee, and all is lost. I shall have the same 
state of things as in the army. The disintegration there is 
a sufficient reason for my determination not to introduce 
the new system." 

" Yes, I agree with you that the committees are a 
curse," confided the General. " But what is to be done ? " 

" I know this much, that I, for one, will have nothing 
to do with committees," I declared emphatically. 

The General jumped to his feet, struck the table with 
his fist and thundered : 

"And I order you to form a committee!" 

I jumped up as well, I also struck the table and 
declared loudly : 

" I will not ! I started this work on condition that 
I should be allowed to run the Battalion as I saw fit and 
without any committees." 

" Then there is nothing left but to disband your Bat- 
talion ! " proclaimed General Polovtzev. 

" This very minute if you wish ! " I replied. 

I drove to the Institute. Knowing that the women 
had been ordered to return I placed ten sentries armed 



174 YASHKA 

with rifles at the gates with instructions not to allow any 
one to enter, and to shoot in case of trouble. Many 
of the rebels came but on being threatened with the rifles 
they retired. They went back to Polovtzev who, for the 
moment at least, could do nothing for them. He reported 
the matter to Kerensky witli a recommendation that 
some action should be taken to control me. 

I proceeded to reorganize my Battalion. There was 
only a remnant of three hundred left of it, but it was a 
loyal remnant, and I was not upset by the diminution in 
numbers. Most of the remaining women were peasants 
like myself, illiterate but very devoted to Mother Russia. 
All of them but one were under thirty-five years of age. 
The exception was Orlova, who was forty, but of an 
unusually powerful constitution. We resumed the 
drilling with greate^' zeal than ever. 

A day or two later Kerensky 's adjutant telephoned. 
He wanted me to come to the Winter Palace to see the 
War Minister. The ante-chambe^- was again crowded 
with many people and I was greeted by several acquaint- 
ances. At the appointed time I was shown into Keren- 
sky's study. 

Kerensky was pacing the room vigorously as I entered. 
His forehead was knit in a heavy frown. 

" Good morning, Minister," I greeted him. 

" Good morning," he answered coldly, without 
extending his hand. 

" Are you a soldier ? " he asked abruptly. 

" Yes," I repHed. 

" Then why don't you obey your superiors ? " 

" Because I am in the right in this case. The orders 
are against the interests of my country and in violation 
of my charter." 

" You must obey ! " Kerensky raised his voice to a 
high pitch, and his face was flushed with anger. " I 



MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 175 

order you to form a committee to-morrow, to treat the 
women courteously, and to cease punishing them ! 
Otherwise I will get rid of you ! " The War Minister 
banged his fist on the table to give emphasis to his 
words. 

But I felt that I was right, so this fit of temper did 
not frighten me, but, on the contrary, strengthened my 
determination. 

" No ! " I shouted, bringing down my fist, too, " no, I 
am not going to form any committees. I started out 
with the understanding that there would be the strictest 
discipline in the Battalion. You can disband it now. A 
soldier I was and a soldier I shall remain . I shall go home, 
retire to a village and settle there in peace." And I 
ran out, slamming the door angrily in the face of the 
astonished Minister. 

In high agitation I returned to the Institute, and 
having assembled the women, I addressed them as 
follows : 

" I am going home to-morrow. The Battalion will be 
disbanded, because I would not consent to form a com- 
mittee. You all know that I had warned all the appli- 
cants previously that I should be a severe disciplinarian. 
I wanted to make this Battalion an example that would 
shine for ever in the history of our country. I hoped 
to show that where men failed women could succeed. I 
dared to dream that women would inspire men to 
great deeds and save our unhappy land. But my hopes 
are now shattered. The majority of the women who 
responded to my appeal proved themselves weak and 
cowardly, and they have wrecked my scheme for the 
salvation of suffering Russia. I have just come back 
from Kerensky. He told me that I must form a 
committee, but I refused. Have you any idea what a 
committee would mean ? " 



176 YASHKA 

"No, no, Commander," the women answered. 

" A committee," I explained, "means nothing but talk, 
talk, talk. The committees have destroyed the army 
and the country. This is war, and in war there should 
be not talk, but action. I can't submit to the order 
to introduce in this Battalion the very system that has 
shattered our glorious army. So I am going home. . . . 
Yes, I leave to-morrow. ..." 

The women threw themselves at my feet in tears. 
They wept and begged me to remain with them. " We 
love you. We will stand by you to the last," they 
cried. " You can punish us, beat us if you will. We 
know and appreciate your motives. You want to help 
Russia and we want you to make use of us. You can 
treat us as you please, you can kill us, but don't leave 
us. Wewillgo anyw^hereforyou. We will go to General 
Polovtzev and tear him to pieces ! " 

They embraced my feet, hugged me, kissed me, pro- 
fessed their affection and loyalty. I was profoundly 
stirred. My heart was filled with gratitude and love 
for these brave friends. They seemed like children to 
me, like my children, and I felt like a tender mother. If 
I had offended fifteen hundred unworthy members, I 
had won the deep devotion of these three hundred noble 
souls. They had tasted the rigours of military life but 
did not flinch. The others were cowards, masquerading 
their worthlessness under the cover of " democracy." 
These sought no excuses. The prospect of complete 
self-sacrifice did not daunt them. The thought of three 
hundred Russian women, courageous of heait, pure of 
soul, ready for self-sacrifice, was one to comfort my aching 
heart. 

*' I wish that I could, but it is impossible for me to 
remain," I replied to the pleadings of my women. " The 
orders from those in authority are to form a committee 



MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 177 

or to disband the Battalion. Since I flatly refused to do 
the former there remains nothing for me but to go home. 
Good-bye for the present : I am going to the Duchess of 
Lichtenberg for the afternoon." 

The Duchess was one of the circle of society women 
who had taken a deep interest in my work. She was a 
very simple and lovable soul, and I needed some one to 
whom I could pour out my heart. I was always sure that 
the Duchess would understand and be helpful. 

" What ails you, Maria ? " were the words with which 
she greeted me as soon as I appeared on the threshold 
of her house. 

I could not restrain my sobs, and told her haltingly of 
the mutiny and the consequent collapse of the Battalion. 
It weighed heavily on me and I felt myself crushed by the 
disaster. She was shocked at the news and cried with 
me. The beautiful dream we had cherished was shat- 
tered. It was indeed a melancholy evening. I stayed 
with her for dinner. i 

About eight o'clock one of my women called and asked 
to see me and she was shown in. She had been sent 
from the barracks as a messenger to report to me the 
results of a visit they had paid to General Polovtzev. 
It appeared that my three hundred loyalists had armed 
themselves with their rifles and had gone to the Com- 
mander of the Military District, demanding that he 
should come out to see them. They were not in a mood 
for trifling and meant business. The General came 
out. 

" What have you done to our Commander ? " they 
demanded sternly. 

"I haven't done anything to her," Polovtzev 
answered, amazed at this threatening demonstration. 

" We want back our Commander ! " my women 
shouted. " We want her back immediately. She is a 



178 YASHKA 

saintly woman, her heart is bleeding for unhappy Russia. 
We will have nothing to do with those bad,unruly women, 
and we will not disband the Battalion. We are the 
Battalion. We want our Commander. We want strict 
discipline in accordance with our pledges to her, and we 
will not form any committees." 

It was reported to me that General Polovtzev was 
actually frightened, surrounded by the throng of angry 
and threatening women. He sent them back to the 
Institute, promising that he would not disband them and 
that he would come to the barracks at nine o'clock the 
following morning. I went with the messenger to the 
quarters and found everything in splendid order. The 
girls seemed anxious to comfort their leader and so kept 
calm and moved about noiselessly. 

In the morning everything went as usual, the rising 
hour, prayers, breakfast and drilling. At nine I was 
informed that General Polovtzev, the adjutant of Keren- 
sky, Captain Dementiev, and several of the women who 
took an interest in the Battalion, were at the gate. I 
quickly formed the Battalion. The General greeted us 
and we saluted. He then shook hands with me and gave 
orders that the women should be sent into the garden, 
for he wanted to talk things over with me. 

I asked myself, as I led the group of distinguished 
visitors into the house, what it all meant. " If it means 
that they have come to persuade me to form a com- 
mittee," I thought, " then it will be very hard for me, 
but I shall resist all persuasion." 

My anticipation proved correct. The General had 
brought all these patronesses of mine to help him over- 
come my obstinacy. He immediately launched into an 
exposition of the necessity for complying with general 
regulations and introducing the committee system in the 
Battalion. He argued along the already familiar lines, 



MY FIGHT AGAINST COMMITTEE RULE 179 

but I would not yield. He gradually became angry. 

" Are you a soldier ? " he repeated the question put to 
me by Kerensky. 

'' Yes, General ! " 

" Then why don't you obey orders ? " 

" Because they are against the interests of the country. 
The committees are a plague. They have destroyed our 
army," I answered. 
, " But it is the law of the country," he declared. 

" Yes, and it is a ruinous law, designed to break up 
the front in time of war." 

" Now I ask you to do it as a matter of form," he 
argued in a different tone altogether, perhaps himself 
realizing the truth of my words. " All the army commit- 
tees are beginning to make inquiries about you. ' Who 
is this Botchkareva ? ' they ask, ' and why is she allowed 
to command without a committee ? ' Do it only for 
the sake of form. Your girls are so devoted to you 
that a committee elected by them would never seriously 
bother you. At the same time it would save trouble." 

Then my lady-visitors surrounded me and begged and 
coaxed me to give way. Some of them wept, others 
embraced me, all of them exasperated my nerves. 
Nothing was more calculated to enrage me than this 
wheedling. I grew impatient and completely lost self- 
control, abandoning myself to hysteria. 

" You are rascals, all of you ! You want to destroy 
the country. Get out of here ! " I shrieked wildly. 

"Be silent ! How dare you shout like that ? I am a 
General. I will kill you ! " Polovtzev thundered at me, 
trembling with rage. 

" All right, you can kill me ! Kill me ! " I cried out, 
tearing my coat open and pointing to my chest. " Kill 
me!" 
The General then threw up his hands, muttering angrily 



180 YASHKA 

under his breath : " What the devil ! This is a demon, 
not a woman ! There is nothing to be done with her," 
and with his mixed following he withdrew. 

The following morning a telegram came from General 
Polovtzev, informing me that I should be allowed to 
continue my work without a committee ! 

Thus ended the dispute caused by the mutiny in the 
Battalion, which had nearly wrecked the entire under- 
taking. It was a hard fight that I had made but, con- 
vinced of my right, there was no question of retreating 
for me. 

Events have completely justified my conviction. The 
Russian Army, once the most colossal military machine in 
the world, was wrecked in a few months by the committee 
system. Coming from the trenches, where I had learned 
at first hand what a curse the committees were proving, 
I realized early their fatal significance. To me it has 
always been clear that a committee meant ceaseless 
speech-making. That was the oustanding factor about 
it to me. I considered no other aspect of it. I knew 
that the Germans worked all day while our men talked, 
and in war, I always realized that it was action that 
(counted and conquered. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 

THE same morning on which the telegram came from 
General Polovtzev there also arrived a banner, 
with an inscription that read something like this : 

" Long live the Provisional Government ! Let Those 
Who Can, Advance ! Forward, Brave Women ! To the 
Defence of the Bleeding Motherland ! " 

We were to march with this banner in the demonstra- 
tion, that had been organized in opposition to the Bolshe- 
vik demonstration fixed for the same day. The Invalids 
were to march in the same procession. I talked matters 
over with their chief when we met at Morskaya. 

The air was charged with alarming rumours. The 
Captain of the Invalids placed fifty revolvers at my dis- 
posal. I distributed them among the instructors and my 
other officers, reserving a pair for myself. 

The band of the Volynski regiment headed the Bat- 
talion of Death, as half the soldiers of that regiment had 
refused to march against the Bolsheviks, having already 
been contaminated with Bolshevist ideas, although it was 
only June. 

Mars Field, our destination, was about five versts from 
our ban-acks. The whole route was lined with enormous 
crowds which cheered us and the Invalids, of whom 
there were about five hundred. Many women on the 
pavements wept, grieving for the girls whom I was lead- 

181 



182 YASHKA 

ing into what seemed a conflict with the Bolsheviks, 
Everybody said : " Something is going to happen to-day." 

As we approached the Mars Field, where the opposing 
demonstration was held, I ordered my soldiers to sit down 
and rest for fifteen minutes. 

" Form ranks ! " I ordered at the end of that time. 
We were all more or less nervous, as if on the eve of an 
offensive. I addressed a few words to the Battalion, 
instructing them to support me to the end, not to insult 
anybody, not to run away at the least provocation, in 
order to avoid a panic. They all pledged themselves to 
fulfil my instructions. 

Before resuming the march the Captain of the Invalids, 
several of his subordinate officers, and all my instruc- 
tors came forward and asked to march in the front row 
with me. I objected, but they insisted, and I finally had 
to give way, in spite of my desire to show the Bolsheviks 
that I was not afraid. 

The crowds on the Mars Field were indeed enormous. 
A long procession, with Bolshevist banners, flowed 
into the great square. We stopped within fifty feet of a 
Bolshevist cart and were met promptly by a hail of 
jokes and curses. There were jeers at the expense of 
the Provisional Government and shouts of : " Long live 
the revolutionary democracy ! Down with the war ! '* 

Some of the women could not suppress their indignation 
and began to answer back, provoking heated argument. 

" When you cry, ' Down with the war ! ' you are help- 
ing to destroy Free Russia," I declared, stepping forward 
and addressing my turbulent neighbours. " We must 
beat the Germans first and then there will be no war." 

" Kill her ! Kill her ! " several voices threatened. 

Greatly excited, I rushed a few steps nearer to the 
crowd. My fingers gripped the two pistols, but in all the 
tumult that followed, the idea was fixed in my mind 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 183 

that I must not shoot at my own people, common workers 
and peasants. 

" Wake up, you deluded sons of Russia ! Think what 
you are doing ! You are destroying the Motherland ! 
Scoundrels ! " I concluded as their jeers continued. 

My instructors tried to hold me back as the throng 
swarmed round me, but I tore myself out of their arms 
and plunged into the thick of it. I worked myself up to 
such a state of frenzy that I did not cease talking even 
when a volley of shots was sent into our midst. Then 
my officers ordered the Battalion to fire. There followed 
a terrible scuffle. 

Two of my instructors were killed, one while defending 
me. Two others were wounded. Ten of my women 
were also wounded. Many bullets grazed me, but I 
escaped till struck unconscious by a blow on the head 
with an iron bar, from behind! Many of the onlookers 
were drawn into the scrimmage and the result was a 
panic. 

I recovered consciousness in the evening. I was in my 
own bed with a physician beside it. He told me that 
although I had lost a good deal of blood my wound was 
not serious, and that I should be able to resume my duties 
soon. 

Late in the evening the officer in charge reported that 
Michael Rodzianko had come to see me. The physician 
went out to meet him and I heard the two conversing in 
the room next to mine. Rodzianko's first question was 
whether I had been killed. It appeared that rumours 
were being spread in the town that I had been struck 
dead on the Mars Field. The doctor's account of my 
condition apparently came as a joyful relief to the Presi- 
dent of the Duma. 

He then came in and smilingly approached my bed and 
kissed me. 



184 YASHKA 

" My little heroine, I am very glad that you escaped 
serious injury. There were many alarming reports about 
you. It was a brave act to march straight into the midst 
of the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, it was foolish of you 
and the wounded men to oppose such tremendous odds. 
I have heard of your victory in the fight against the 
introduction of the committee system in the Battalion. 
Well done ! I wanted to call and congratulate you earlier, 
but I have been very busy." 

I sat up in bed to show my visitor that I was quite 
well. He told me of the appointment of G eneral Kornilov 
to the command of the south-western front, and of a 
luncheon to be given the following day at the Winter 
Palace, at which Kornilov would be present. Rodzianko 
inquired if I should be strong enough to attend it, and 
the physician thought that I probably should. Rod- 
zianko then took his leave, assuring me of his readiness 
to help me at all times and wishing me a speedy recovery. 

The following morning I spent at the window, with 
my head bandaged, watching my women drill. I felt 
strong enough to go with Rodzianko to the luncheon. 
He called before noon and drove me to the Winter 
Palace. In the reception-room there I was introduced 
by the President of the Duma to General Kornilov. 

Middle-aged, with a spare, manly, vigorous frame, a 
keen face, grey moustache, Mongol eyes, serni-Mongol 
cheek-bones : this was Kornilov. He spoke little, but 
every word he uttered rang out clearly. One felt instinc- 
tively that here was a man of powerful character and of 
dogged perseverance. 

" I am very glad to meet you," he said, shaking my ^ 
hand. " I congratulate you on your determined fight ' 
against the committees." 

" General," I repUed, " I was determined because my 
heart told me that I was in the right." 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 185 

" Always follow the advice of your heart," he said, 
'' and you will do right." 

At this moment Kerensky appeared. We rose to greet 
him. He shook hands with Kornilov, Rodzianko and 
me. The War Minister was in a good humour and smiled 
benignly at me. 

" Here is an obstinate little person. I never saw her 
like," Kerensky said, pointing at me. " She took it into 
her head not to form a committee, and nothing could 
break her will. One must do her justice. She is a 
diehard, holding out all alone against us all. She 
foolishly persisted in maintainii^g that no such law 
existed." 

"Well," said Rodzianko in my defence, "she isn't 
such a fool. She is perhaps wiser than you and me 
together." 

We were then asked into the dining-room. Kerensky 
was seated at the head of the table, I at its opposite end. 
Rodzianko was on Kerensky's right, Kornilov was on my 
right. There were also three Allied Generals present. 
One was on my left, and the other two were between 
Kerensky and Kornilov. 

The conversation was carried on mostly in a foreign 
tongue and I understood nothing. Besides, I had my 
troubles with the dishes and table etiquette. I did not 
know how to deal with the unfamiliar dishes, and blushed 
deeply several times, while I watched my neighbours from 
the corners of my eyes. 

Now and then I engaged in con verisation with Kornilov. 
He approved my decided views about the necessity of 
discipline in the army, and declared that if discipline 
were not restored, then Russia was lost. The burden of 
Kerensky's conversation at the table was, that in spite 
of the considerable disintegration that was thinning the 
ranks of the army, it was not too late as yet. He 



186 YASHKA 

was contemplating a trip to the front, feeling certain that 
it would lead to our troops taking the olTensive. 

Finally Kerensky got up, and the luncheon was over. 
He told me before leaving that there would be a solemn 
presentation to me of the two standards and icons 
sent by the soldiers from the front. I replied that I 
did not deserve such honours, but hoped to be able to 
justify his trust in me. 

Kornilov parted from me cordially, inviting me to 
call on him at his headquarters when I arrived at the 
front. Rodzianko then escorted me home and asked 
me to come to see him before leaving for the front. 

The time remaining before the date fixed by Kerensky 
for the dedication of the Battalion's battle flag was spent 
in intensive training and rifle practice. The women were 
almost ready to go to the front and awaited June 25 
with impatience. 

Finally that day arrived. The women were in high 
spirits. My heart was filled with expectation. The 
Battalion arose early. Every soldier had a new uniform . 
The rifles were spick and span. There -was a holiday- 
feeling in the air. We were all cheerful, though nervous 
under the weight of responsibility which the day was to 
bring. 

At nine in the morning two bands arrived at our gates. 
They were followed by Captain Kuzmin, assistant Com- 
mander of the Petrograd Military District, with instruc- 
tions for the Battalion to be at the St. Isaac's Cathedral 
at ten o'clock in full military array. We started out 
almost immediately, led by the two military bands. 

The throng of people moving in the direction of the 
Cathedral was enormous. The entire neighbourhood was 
lined up with units of the garrison. There were troops 
of all kinds. There was even a body of Cossacks, with 
flags on the points of their spears. A group of distin- 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 187 

guished citizens and officers stood on the steps leading 
to the entrance of the church. It included Kerensky, 
Rodzianko, Miliukov, Kornilov, Polovtzev and others. 
The Battalion saluted as we marched into the huge 
building. 

The officiating clergy were two bishops and twelve 
priests. The church was filled to overflowing. A hush 
fell on the vast gathering as I was asked to step forward 
and give my name. I was seized with fear, as if in the 
presence of God Himself. The standard that was to be 
consecrated was placed in my hand and two old battle 
flags were crossed over it, hiding me almost completely 
in their folds. The officiating bishops then addressed me, 
dwelling upon the unprecedented honour implied in the 
dedication of an army standard for a woman. 

It was not customary to inscribe the name of a Com- 
mander on the flag of a military unit, he explained, but 
the name of Maria Botchkareva was emblazoned on this 
standard, which, in case of my death, would be returned 
to the Cathedral and never used by another Commander. 
As he spoke and said the prayers, in the course of which 
he sprinkled me three times with holy water, I prayed to 
the Lord with all my heart and might. The ceremony 
lasted about an hour, after which two soldiers, delegates 
from the First and Third armies presented to me two 
icons, given by fellow-soldiers, with inscriptions on the 
cases, expressing their trust in me as the woman who 
would lead Russia to honour and renown. 

I was humbled. I did not consider myself worthy of 
such honours. When asked to receive the two icons I 
fell on my knees before them and prayed for God's 
guidance. How could I, an ignorant woman, justify 
the hope and trust of so many brave and enlightened 
sons of my country ? 

General Kornilov, representing the army, then pre- 



188 YASHKA 

sented me with a revolver and sword with handles of 
gold. 

" You have deserved these gallant weapons, and you 
will not disgrace them," he said, and kissed me on the 
cheek. 

I kissed the sword, and pledged myself never to disgrace 
the weapons and to use them in the defence of my 
country. 

Kerensky then pinned the epaulets of a Lieutenant 
on my shoulders, promoting me to the rank of an 
officer. He, also, kissed me, and was followed by some 
of the distinguished guests, who congratulated me 
warmly. 

The high officials departed and General Polovtzev took 
charge for the rest of the day. I was too overcome to 
regain my self-possession quickly. I was raised up by the 
hands of General Polovtzev and General Anosov first. 
Then some officers of junior rank carried me. Next I 
was raised above the crowd by some enthusiastic soldiers, 
and dragged out of their hands by even more jubilant 
sailors. All the time I was very uncomfortable, but the 
ovation continued and the cheers would not subside. 
Women in the throng forced their way to me, kissing my 
feet and blessing me. It was a patriotic throng, and love 
for Russia was the dominant note. Orators mounted 
improvised platforms and talked of the coming offensive 
and the Battalion of Death, finishing with a " Long 
live Botchkareva ! " The emotion of the soldiers at 
the moment was such that they cried : "We will go with 
Botchkareva to the front." Speakers pointed to the 
women as heroes, calling upon every able-bodied man to 
rise to the defence of Russia. 

It was a wonderful day : a dream, not a day. Had 
my fancy come true ? Had this group of women already 
accomplished the object for which it was organized ? It 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 189 

seemed so that day. I felt that Russia's manhood was 
ready to follow the Battalion and strike the final blow 
for the salvation of the country. 

It was an illusion, and my disenchantment was not very 
long delayed. But it was such a beautiful illusion that 
I gained enough strength from it to work patiently for 
its renewal and realization. What those thousands of 
Russian soldiers, assembled in the neighbourhood of the 
St. Isaac's Cathedral, felt on June 25, 1917, was the 
thrill that comes from self-sacrifice for the truth, from 
unselfish devotion to the Motherland, from lofty idealism. 
It convinced me that the millions of Russian soldiers, 
scattered over their vast country, were amenable to the 
word of truth, and instilled into me faith in the 
ultimate restoration of my country. 

After the consecration of the Battalion's standard, 
there remained less than two days before leaving for the 
front. These were spent in preparations. We had to 
organize a supply unit of our own, as we could not take 
with us the kitchen of the Guard Regiment that we had 
used. Also, every member of the Battalion received 
complete war equipment. 

On June 29 we left the grounds of the Institute and 
marched to the Kazan Cathedral, on the way to the 
railway station. The bishops addressed us, dwelling upon 
the significance of the moment and blessing us. Again 
large crowds followed us into the Cathedral and to the 
station. When we started out from the church a group 
of Bolsheviks blocked our way. The women imme- 
diately began to load their rifles. I ordered them to stop 
this, put my sword in the scabbard, and marched forward 
to the Bolsheviks. 

" Why do you block the way ? You scoff at us 
women, claiming that we can't do anything. Then, why 
^id you come here to interfere with our going ? It is a 



190 YASHKA 

sign that you are afraid of us," I said to them. They 
dispersed, jeering. 

Accompanied by the hearty cheers of the people who 
Hned the streets, we marched to the station. Our train 
consisted of twelve vans and one second-class passenger 
coach. We boarded the train under orders to proceed 
to Molodechno, the headquarters of the First Siberian 
Corps, to which the Battalion was to be attached. 

The journey was a triumphal procession. At every 
station we were hailed by crowds of soldiers and civilians. 
There were cheers, demonstrations and speeches. My 
women had strict orders not to leave the cars without 
permission. Our meals were provided for us at certain 
stations, through telegraphic orders, and we alighted for 
our meals at those places. At one stopping-place, while I 
was resting, a demonstration took place in our honour, 
and I was suddenly taken out of bed and carried out in 
view of the crowd. 

Thus we moved to the front, arriving at Molodechno. 
I was met there by a group of about twenty officers 
and taken to dine with the Staff. The Battalion was 
quartered in two barracks upon our arrival at Corps 
Headquarters. 

There were about a score of barracks in Molodechno. 
Almost half of these were filled with deserters from the 
front, former police and gendarmes who had been 
impressed into the army at the outbreak of the Revolu- 
tion, and had soon escaped from tlic ranks. There were 
also some criminals and a mm 1 1 xr < »r Jiolshevist agitators. 
In a word, they were the riff-raff of that sector of the 
front. 

They soon got word of the arrival of the Battalion, 
and while I was being driven to dinner they crowded 
round my women and began to curse and molest them. 
The officer in charge perceived with alarm the growing 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 191 

insolence of these ruffians, and hurried to the Com- 
mandant of the station to beg protection. 

" But what can I do ? " answered the Commandant 
helplessly. " I am powerless. There are fifteen hundred 
of them, and there is nothing to be done but to submit 
patiently to their derision and win their goodwill by 
kindness." 

The death penalty had already been abolished in the 
army. 

The officer in charge returned with empty hands. She 
found a few of the rioters in the barracks, behaving 
offensively towards the women. Having tried vainly 
to get rid of them by persuasion she telephoned to me. 
I had barely seated myself at the dinner table when her 
summons reached me. I hastened into a motor and 
drove to the barracks. 

" What are you doing here ? " I asked sharply, as I 
jumped from the car and ran inside. " What do you 
want ? Go out of here ! I will talk to you outside if 
you want anything." 

" Ha, ha, ha ! " the men jeered. " Who are you ? 
What sort of a baba is this ? " 

" I am the Commander." 

" The Commander, eh ? Ha, ha, ha ! Look at this 
Commander ! " they scoffed. 

" Now," I spoke slowly and firmly, " you have no 
business here whatever. You have got to go away. 
I will be at your service outside. If you want anything 
you can tell me there. But you must get out of here ! " 

The men, there were only a score of them, went towards 
the door, still jeering and muttering curses. I followed 
them. Immediately outside a large crowd had collected, 
attracted by the noise. As I faced these depraved men 
in soldiers' uniforms my heart was pained at the sight 
of them. A more ragged, tattered, demoralized lot of 



192 YASHKA 

soldiers I had never seen. Most of them had the faces 
of murderers. Others were mere boys, corrupted by the 
Bolshevist propaganda. 

A little while ago, in the old days of January, 1917, it 
Avould have been sufficient to execute a couple of them 
to transform the fifteen hundred into respectable and 
obedient human beings. Now, the mighty Russian 
military organization, while engaged in a mortal combat 
with an enemy of stupendous strength, had been rendered 
incapable of coping with even such a small group of 
recalcitrants ! This was my first experience of the front 
after an interval of two months. But what a great 
stage the disintegrating influences had advanced in this 
short period of time ! It was four months since the 
Revolution, and the front was already seriously infected j 
by the blight of disobedience. 

" Why did you come here ? What devil brought youl 
here ? You want to fight ? We want peace ! We havef 
had enough fighting ! " was shouted at me from every | 
side. 

" Yes, I want to fight. How can we have peace save| 
by fighting the Germans ? I have had more experienc^ 
of war than you, and I want peace as much as any oni 
here. If you want me to talk more to you and answeij 
any questions you care to ask me, come to-morrow. II 
is getting late now. I shall be at your disposf 
to-morrow." 

The gang drifted away in groups, some still scoffinj 
others arguing. I transferred the women from th| 
second barrack into the first for greater safety, an( 
posted sentinels at every entrance. This cheered upl 
the women somewhat, but they were even more encour- 
aged when they heard me refuse an invitation to spend 
the night at Staff Headquarters. How could I leave my 
women alone with these fifteen hundred ruffians in the 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT l.^^ 

neighbourhood ? So I resolved to sleep with them, under 
the same roof. 

Night came and my soldiers went to bed. Many of us 
must have wondered that evening whether the deserters 
would heed my words or return during the night and 
attack the barrack. It was "not yet midnight when a 
party of them came knocking at the windows and the 
thin wooden walls. They cursed us all, and particularly 
me. They tried to enter through the doors, but were 
met by fixed bayonets. When their scoffing proved 
ineffective, they stoned the barrack, breaking every 
pane of glass and bruising about fifteen of my women. 

Still we made no complaint. If the Commandant con- 
fessed his powerlessness to control them, what could we 
do ? Besides, we were going to the front to fight the 
Germans, not to engage in a battle with three times our 
number of desperadoes. 

The more patience we exercised the bolder grew the 
attacks of the men. Some of them would suddenly 
thrust their hands through the shattered window -p anes 
and seize some of the women by their hair, causing them 
to cry out with pain. Nobody slept. All were excited 
and on edge. The crashing of the stones against the 
wooden walls would every now and then shake the whole 
building. It required a lot of patience to endure it all, 
3ut my orders were not to provoke a fight. 

However, as the night wore on and the noises and 
jeering did not cease, my blood began to boil, and I 
inally lost control of myself. Hastily putting on my 
overcoat I ran out of the barrack. The day was just 
creaking, an early July day. The band of scoundrels, 
bout fifty in all, stood still for an instant. 

" You villains, you rogues ! What are you doing ? " 
i shouted with all my strength. " Didn't you want a 
est on the way to the trenches ? Can't you let us alone, 





IP^i YASHKA 

|you no sense of shame ? Perhaps some of the 
lere are your sisters. And I see that some of 
)ld men. If you want anything, come to see 
\n always ready to talk and argue and answer 
questions. But leave the women alone, you shameless 
ruffians ! " 

My tirade was met by an outburst of laughter and 
jeers that incensed me even more. 

" You will go away this instant or kill me here ! " I 
shrieked, flinging myself forward. " You hear ? Kill 
me ! " I was trembling with rage. The roughs were 
impressed by my tone and words. They left one by 
one, and we settled down for a couple of hours of sleep. 

In the morning General Valuyev, now Commander of 
the Tenth Army, reviewed the Battalion. He was 
greatly pleased and expressed his gratification to me at 
the perfect discipline and bearing of the unit. Our own 
two kitchens then prepared dinner, after they had 
received a supply of food and provender. There were 
twelve horses attached to the Battalion, six drivers,' 
eight cooks, two shoemakers. In addition to these 
sixteen men, there were two military instructors accom- 
panying us. The men were always kept separate from 
the women. 

After dinner the deserters began to assemble around 
our barracks. I had promised to debate with them on 
the preceding day, and they now took me at my word. , 

" Where are you taking your soldiers ? To fight fori 
the bourgeoisie ? What for ? You claim to be a peasant >. 
woman, then why do you want to shed the peoples' 
blood for the rich exploiters ? " 

These and miany similar questions were fired at 
from many directions. 

I stood up, folded my arms and eyed the crow^ 
sternly. I must confess that a tremor ran over me 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 195 

my eyes passed from one rascal to another. They were 
a desperate lot, looking more like beasts than human 
beings. The dregs of the army, truly. 

" Look at yourselves," I began, " and think what 
has become of you ! You, who once advanced like 
heroes against the enemy's devastating fire and suffered 
like faithful sons of the Motherland in the defence of 
Russia, lying for weeks in the muddy, vermin-infested 
trenches, and crawling through No Man's Land. Consider 
for a moment what you are now and what you were a 
little while ago. Only last winter you were the pride 
of the country and the world. Now you are the execra- 
tion of the army and the nation. Surely there are some 
among you who belonged to the Fifth Siberian Corps, 
aren't there ? " 

" Yes, yes." 

" Then you ought to remember me — Yashka — or have 
heard of me." 

" Yes, we do ! We know you ! " came from several 
parts of the crowd. 

" Well, if you know me, you ought also to know that I 
waded in the mud of the trenches together with you ; 
that I slept on the same wet ground as you or your 
brother ; that I faced the same dangers, suffered the 
same hunger, shared the same cabbage soup that you 
had. Why then do you attack me ? Why do you jeer 
at me ? How and when have I earned your contempt 
and derision ? " 

" When you were a common soldier," answered a 
couple of voices, " you were like one of us. But now, 
being an officer, you are under the influence of the 
bourgeoisie." 

" Who made me an officer if not you ? Didn't your 
comrades, the common soldiers of the First and Tenth 
A-rmies, send special delegates to honour me and present 



196 YASHKA 

icons and standards to me, thus raising nie to the grade 
of officer ? I am of the people, blood of your blood, a 
toiling peasant girl." 

" But we are tired of war. We want peace," they 
complained, unable to find fault with me personally. 

" I want peace, too. But how can you have peace ? 
Show me how ? " I insisted vigorously, observing that 
my words were soothing the temper of the crowd con- 
siderably. 

" Why, simply by leaving the front and going home. 
That's how we can have peace." 

" Leave the front ! " I shouted, with all the force at 
my command. "What will happen then? Tdl me! 
Will you have peace ? Never ! The Germans will just 
walk over our defences and crush the people and their free- 
dom. This is war. You are soldiers and you know what 
war is. You know that all is fair in war. To leave the 
trenches ! Why not hand Russia over to the Kaiser ! 
It's the same thing, and you know it as well as I. No, 
there is no other way to peace than through an offensive 
and the defeat of the enemy. Conquer the Germans and 
there will be peace ! Shoot them, kill them, stab them, 
but do not fraternize with the foes of our beloved Russia!" 

" But they fraternize with us. They are tired of the 
war, too. They want peace as much as we," said a few 
men. 

" They are deceiving you. They fraternize here and 
send soldiers to fight our Allies." 

" What are the Allies to us if they do not want peace ? '* 
some argued. 

" They do not want peace now because they know 
that the Germans are treacherous. You and I know it, 
too. Haven't the Germans asphyxiated thousands of 
our brethren with their deadly gases ? Haven't we all 
suffered, from their base tricks ? Aren't they now^ 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 197 

occupying a large part of our country ? Let's drive 
them out and have peace ! " 

There was silence. Nobody had anything to say. 
Greatly encouraged, I resumed, just as a happy idea 
dawned upon me. 

" Yes, let us drive them out of Russia. Suppose I 
were to take you along to the front, to feed you well, to 
equip you with new uniforms and boots, would you go 
with me to attack the treacherous enemy ? " 

" Yes, yes ! We will go ! You are our comrade. 
You are not a bourgeois vampire ! With you, we will 
go ! " many voices rang from all sides. 

" But if you go with me," I said, " I shall keep you 
under the severest discipline. There can be no army 
without discipline. I am a peasant like you, and I 
would take your word of honour to remain faithful. 
But should any one of you attempt to escape, I would 
have him shot promptly." 

" We agree ! We are willing to follow you ! You are 
one of us ! Hurrah for Yashka ! Hurrah for Botch- 
kareva ! " the crowd roared almost unanimously. 

It was a soul-stirring scene. But an hour ago these 
tattered men acted as if their hearts were deadened. 
Now they were beating warmly. A short time ago 
they looked like the most degraded ruffians ; now their 
faces were lit with the fire of humanity. It seemed a 
miracle. But it was not. Such is the soul of the 
Russian ; at one moment it is hardened and brutal, at 
another it is full of devotion and love. 

I spoke to General Valuyev and begged permission to 
take the body of deserters to the front, asking for equip- 
ment for them. The General refused. He was afraid 
that they would demoralize the rest of the men. I offered 
to be responsible for their conduct, but I could not bring 
over the General to my point of view, 



198 YASHKA 

So I had to return with empty hands, but I did not 
disclose the truth to the men. I told them that there 
was no equipment available and that as soon as it arrived 
they would be dispatched to the Battalion's sector. 
Meanwhile, I invited them to escort us out of Molodechno 
in the morning. 

We started out, in full array, at ten the following day. 
Each of the girls carried her full equipment, a burden of 
about sixty-five pounds. There were twenty miles 
ahead of us to Corps Headquarters. The road was 
open, fields alternating with woods stretching on both 
sides of it. 

I had telegraphed to Headquarters ordering supper, 
expecting to arrive there early in the evening. But 
clouds gathered overhead and showers impeded our pro- 
gress to such an extent that the women could scarcely' 
keep up their strength. Whenever we passed a village, 
it was a great temptation to let them take a rest in it, 
but I knev that I should never be able to rally them 
again that day if I once allowed them to break the 
ranks. So I was compelled to keep the Battalion on 
the march and to press on regardless of the condition 
of the road or the weather. 

It was eleven at night when we arrived at Corps Head- 
quarters and were met by General Kostiayev, Chief of 
Staff, who invited us to go to eat the meal prepared for 
us. The General in command would review us to-morrow, 
he said. The girls were too tired to eat. They fell like 
logs in the barn assigned to the Battalion and slept all 
night in their clothes. 

The Corps Headquarters were situated at Redki. We 
breakfasted in the barracks, after which we proceeded to 
prepare for review by tlie (ieneral in command. I had 
been invited to lunch at Staff Headquarters after 
review. 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 199 

It was then that I found that several of my girls were 
suffering from the effects of the arduous march on the 
preceding day. Two of them, Skridlova, my adjutant, 
the daughter of an Admiral who had commanded the 
Black Sea Fleet, and Dubrovskaya, the daughter of a 
General, were too ill to remain in the ranks and were 
sent to a hospital. I appointed Princess Tatuyeva, who 
belonged to a famous Grusin family in Tiflis, to be my 
adjutant. She was a brave and loyal girl, of high 
education and spoke fluently three foreign languages. 

At twelve I formed the Battalion for review. Know- 
ing how much the women had gone through the previous 
day, 1 relaxed my sternness for the moment and joked 
with my soldiers, coaxing them to make an effort to 
make a good impression on the General. The girls 
did their best to pull themselves together and were ready 
to show the General what the Battalion was worth. The 
Corps Commander arrived soon. He reviewed my 
soldiers, gave them a thorough examination, resorting 
even to some catch tests. 

" Magnificent ! " he said enthusiastically at the con- 
clusion of the test, congratulating me and shaking my 
hand. " I would not have beheved it possible for men, 
let alone women, to master the training in four weeks 
so well. Why, we have had recruits here who had 
undergone three months' drilling, and they could not 
compare with your girls." 

He then spoke a few words of praise to the women 
themselves, and my soldiers were immensely pleased. I 
proceeded with the General and his suite to Headquarters, 
where luncheon was awaiting us. He nearly kissed me 
when he learned that there were no committees in my 
Battalion, so genuine was his delight. 

" Since the committees were instituted in the army, 
everything has changed," he said. " I love the soldiers 



200 YASHKA 

and they always loved me. But now all is changed. There 
is endless trouble. Every day, almost every hour, there 
come some impossible demands from the ranks. The 
front has lost almost all of its former strength. It is a 
farce, not war." 

We had not had time to begin the luncheon when a 
telegram arrived from Molodechno, notifying the Staff 
of Kerensky's arrival there for luncheon and requesting 
the General's and my attendance. Losing no time, the 
General ordered his car and we drove to Molodechno at 
top speed. 

There were about twenty persons present at the 
luncheon at Army Headquarters. Kerensky sat at the 
head of the table. The Commander of my Corps was 
on my right and another General on the left. During 
the meal the conversation was about conditions at the 
front and the state of preparedness for a general offensive. 
I took practically no part in the discussion. At the end 
of the meal, when all arose, Kerensky walked up to the 
Commander of my Corps and delivered himself unex- 
pectedly of the following peremptory speech : 

" You must see to it that a committee is formed 
immediately in the Battalion of Death, and that she," 
pointing at me, " ceases to punish the women ! " 

I was thunderstruck. All the officers in the room 
strained their ears. There was a tense moment. I felt 
my blood rush to my head like a flame. I was furious. 

With two violent jerks I tore off my epaulets and threw 
them into the face of the War Minister. 

" I refuse to serve under you ! " I exclaimed. " To- 
day you are one way, to-morrow, the opposite. You 
allowed me once to run the Battalion without a committee. 
I shall not form any committees ! I am going home." 

I flung these words at Kerensky, who had turned 
very red, before any one in the room had recovered from ; 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 201 

the shock, ran out of the house, threw myself into the 
Corps Commander's motor and ordered his chauffeur to 
drive to Redki instantly. 

A friend of the Chief of Staff, Kostiayev, told me later 
that there was a great commotion as soon as I left the 
room. Kerensky was furious at first. 

" Shoot her ! " he ordered in a fury. 

" Minister," said General Valuyev, the Commander of 
the Tenth Army, in my defence, " I have known Botch- 
kareva for three years. She first tasted war as a member 
of my Corps. She suffered more than any other soldier 
at the front, because she suffered both as a woman and 
as a soldier. She was always the first to volunteer for 
any enterprise, thus serving as an example. She is a 
plain soldier and a word is a pledge to her. If she had 
been promised the command of the Battalion without 
the aid of a committee, she would never understand 
a violation of the pledge." 

The Commander of my Corps and other officers also 
spoke up for me. Finally some remembered that 
Kerensky had abolished capital punishment. 

" Capital punishment has been abolished, Minister," 
they said. " If Botchkareva is to be shot, then why 
not let us shoot some of those fifteen hundred deserters 
who are raising the devil here ? " 

Kerensky then abandoned the thought of shooting me, 
but insisted before departing from Molodechno that I 
should be tried and punished. The trial never took 
place. 

The Corps Commander was very agitated when he 
discovered that I had disappeared with his car. He had 
to borrow one to get to Redki, and although pleased in 
his heart with my outburst he decided to give me a 
scolding and remind me of discipline. I was too excited 
and nervous to do anything when I returned from 



202 YASHKA 

Molodechno, and so lay down in my barrack, trying to 
picture what would now become of the Battalion. I 
knew I had committed a serious breach of discipline and 
reproached myself for it. 

I was called before the Commander late in the after- 
noon, and he reprimanded me for my unmilitary conduct. 
The General's rebuff was severe. I acknowledged every 
point of it without argument, recognizing that my 
behaviour was unpardonable. 

The hour for dinner came, and I went to Headquarters. 
The scene at the table was one of suppressed merriment. 
Everybody knew of what had happened at Molodechno. 
The officers winked knowingly and exchanged smiles. 
I was the hero of the secret rejoicing. Nobody dared 
to laugh out loud, for the General at the head of the 
table had assumed a grave expression, as if struggling 
not to sanction by an incautious smile the clandestine 
mirth of the Staff over my treatment of Kerensky. 
Finally the General could not preserve his gravity any 
longer and joined in the laughter. The restraint was 
removed. 

" Bravo, Botchkareva ! " one of the men exclaimed. 

" That's the way to treat him," said another. 

"As if there weren't enough committees in the army, 
he wants still more ! "" spoke a third. 

" He himself abolished capital punishment, and now 
he orders her to be shot ! " laughed a fourth. 

The officers were plainly hostile toward Kerensky. 
Why ? Because they saw that Kerensky did not under- 
stand the temper of the Russian soldier. His flying 
excursions to the front perhaps left Kerensky and the 
world with the impression that the army was a living, 
powerful, intelligent organism. The officers who were 
with the soldiers day and night knew that the same 
crowd which had given an enthusiastic welcome to 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 203 

Kerensky an hour before would accord a similar reception 
to a Bolshevist or Anarchist agitator. Above all, it 
was Kerensky's development of the committee system 
in the army that had undermined his reputation with 
officers. 

After dinner I applied to the General for seven officers 
and twelve men instructors to accompany the Battalion 
to the trenches. One of the officers, a young Lieutenant 
named Leonid Grigorievitch Filippov, was recommended 
to me for the post of adjutant in battle. Filippov was 
known as a brave fellow, as he had escaped from a 
German prison camp. I addressed to the group of 
instructors a warning to the effect that if any of them 
were unable to consider my soldiers as men it would 
be better for them not to join the Battalion, and thus 
avoid unpleasantness in the future. 

The Battalion was assigned to the 172nd Division, 
situated within four miles of Redki, in the village of 
Beloye. We were met by the units in reserve, who were 
drawn up to welcome us, with great enthusiasm. 

It was a sunny day in midsummer. We spent little 
time at Division Headquarters. After lunching we 
resumed our march, having been further assigned to 
the 525th Kuriag-Daryiuski Regiment, about a mile 
from Beloye and a little over a mile from the fighting 
line. We arrived at Senki, the Regimental Headquarters, 
after sunset and were met by a " shock battalion," 
formed of volunteer soldiers for offensive warfare. There 
were many such battalions scattered throughout the 
army, comprising in their ranks the best elements of 
the Russian forces. 

Two barns were placed at the disposal of the Battalion 
and one dug-out for the officers. Another dug-out was 
occupied by the instructors and members of the supply 
detachment. However, as the men in the place began to 



204 YASHKA 

manifest a certain amount of curiosity in regard to my 
women, I decided to sleep in one barn and let Tatuyeva 
take charge of the second. At night a crowd of soldiers 
surrounded the barns and would not let us sleep. They 
were inoffensive. They made no threats. They were 
simply curious, intensely curious. 

" We merely want to see. It is something new," they 
replied to the remonstrances of the sentinels : " babas in 
breeches ! And soldiers, as well ! Isn't it extraordinary 
enough to attract attention ? " 

In the end I had to go out and talk with the soldiers. 
I sat down and argued it out. Didn't they think it right 
for the women to want a rest after a day of marching ? 
Yes, they did. Wouldn't they admit that rest was 
necessary before taking the offensive ? Yes, they M^ould. 
Then why not suppress their curiosity and give the 
exhausted women a chance to gather new strength ? The 
men agreed and dispersed. 

The girls were in high spirits the following day. The 
Russian artillery had got to work early and poured 
stream of fire into the enemy positions. Of course, tha| 
meant an offensive. The Commander of the Regimei 
came out to review us and made a cordial speech to thj 
Battalion, calling me their mother and expressing hii| 
hope that the girls would love me as such. The firing 
increased in violence as the 6th of July, 1917, was draw| 
ing to a close. The German artillery did not rcmai 
silent long. Shells began to fall round about us. 

The night was passed in the same barns at Semi 
How many of the girls slept, I do not know. Certainlj 
most of them must have been awed in the actual presenc 
of War. The guns were booming incessantly, but 
my brave little soldiers, whatever they felt in theii| 
hearts, behaved with fortitude. Were not they going| 
to lead in. a general attack against the foe that would 



THE BATTALION AT THE FRONT 205 

set the entire Russian front ablaze ? Were not they 
sacrificing their lives for beloved Russia, who would 
surely remember with pride this gallant group of three 
hundred women ? Death was dreadful. But a hundred 
times more dreadful was the ruin of Mother Russia. 
Besides, their Commander would lead them over the top, 
and with her they would go anywhere. 

And what was the Commander thinking about ? I had 
a vision. I saw millions of Russian soldiers rise in an 
invincible advance after I and my three hundred women 
had disappeared in No Man's Land on the way to the 
German trenches. Surely, the men would be shamed 
at the sight of their sisters going into battle. Surely, 
the front would awake and rush forward like one man, 
to be followed by the powerful armies of the rear. No 
force on earth could withstand the irresistible onrush 
of fourteen million Russian soldiers. Then there would 
be peace. ... 



CHAPTER XIV 

AN ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 

IN the dusk of July the 7th we made our last prepara- 
tions before going into the trenches. The Battalion 
was provided with a detachment of eight machine guns 
and a crew to man them. I was also furnished with a 
wagonload of small ammunition. 

I addressed my girls, telling them that the whole 
regiment would take part in an offensive the coming 
night. 

" Don't be cowards ! Don't be traitors ! Remember 
that you volunteered to set an example, to the laggards 
of the army. I know that you are of the stuff to win 
glory. The country is watching for you to set an example 
for the entire front. Place your trust in God, and He 
will help us save the Motherland." 

To the men who were standing by I spoke of the 
necessity of co-operation. As Kerensky had just 
completed a tour of this section, the soldiers were still 
under the influence of his passionate appeals to defend 
the country and freedom. The men responded to my 
call, promising to join us in the coming attack. 

Darkness settled over the earth, broken now and then 
by the flare of explosions. This was to be the night of 
nights. The artillery roared louder than ever as we 
stealthily entered a communication trench and filed 
singly into the front line. The rest of the regiment 

206 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 207 

was pouring in the same direction through other com- 
munication trenches. There were casualties during the 
operation. Some soldiers were killed, and many were 
wounded, among the latter being several of my girls. 

The order from General Valuyev, Commander of the 
Tenth Army, was for our whole corps to go over the 
top at 3 a.m., July 8th. The Battalion occupied a 
section of the front trench, flanked on both sides by 
other companies. I was at the extreme right of the line 
held by the Battalion. At the extreme left was Captain 
Petrov, one of the instructors. My adjutant. Lieutenant 
Filippov, was in the centre of the line. Between him and 
myself two officers were stationed among the girls at 
equal distances. Between him and Captain Petrov 
another two officers occupied similar positions. We 
waited for the signal to advance. 

The night was passed in great tension. As the hour 

fixed for the beginning of the attack approached, strange 

''reports reached me. The officers were uneasy. They 

noted a certain restlessness among the men and began 

to wonder if they would advance after all. 

The hour struck three. The Colonel gave the signal. 
But the men on my right and to the left of Captain 
Petrov would not move. They replied to the Colonel's 
order with questions and expressions of doubt as to the 
wisdom of advancing. The cowards ! 

" Why should we die ? " asked some. 

" What's the use of advancing ? " rem.arked others. 

" Perhaps it would be better not to attack," expressed 
the hesitation of many more. 

" Yes, let us see first if an offensive is necessary," 
debated the remaining companies. 

The Colonel, the Company Commanders and some of 
the braver soldiers tried to persuade the regiment to go 
over the top. Meanwhile, day was breaking. Time 



208 YASHKA 

did not wait. The other regiments of the corps were 
also hesitating The men, raised to a high pitch of 
courage by Kerensky's oratory, lost heart when the 
advance became imminent. My Battalion was kept 
in the trench by the cowardly behaviour of the men on 
both flanks. It was an intolerable situation, unthink- 
able, grotesque. 

The sun crept out in the East, only to shine down 
upon the extraordinary spectacle of an entire corps 
debating upon their Commander's order to advance. 
It was four o'clock. The debate still continued heatedly. 
The sun rose higher. The morning mist had almost 
vanished. The artillery fire was slackening. Still the 
debate continued. It was five o'clock. The Germans 
were wondering what in the world had become of the 
expected Russian offensive. All the spirit accumulated 
in the Battalion during the night was waning, giving 
way under the physical strain which we were enduring. 
And the soldiers were still discussing the advisability 
of attacking ! 

Every second was precious. " If they would only 
decide in the affirmative, even now it might not be too 
late to strike," I thought. But minutes grew into 
hours, and there was no sign of a decision. It struck 
six, and then seven. The day was lost. Perhaps all 
was lost. One's blood boiled with indignation at the 
absurdity, the futility of the whole thing. The weak- 
kneed hypocrites ! They feigned concern as to the 
advisability on general principles of starting an offensive, 
as if they hadn't talked for weeks about it to their hearts' 
content. They were nothing but cowards, concealing 
their fear in floods of idle talk. 

Orders were given to the artillery to continue the 
bombardment. All day the cannon boomed while the 
men argued. The shame, the humihation of it ! These 



i ERRAND FROM KERENSK Y TO KORNILOV 209 

very men had given their words of honour to attack ! 
Now fear for the safety of their skins had taken possession 
of their minds and souls. The hour of noon still found 
them in the midst of the debate ! There were meetings 
and speeches in the immediate rear. Nothing more 
stupid, more empty of meaning could be imagined 
than the arguments of the men. They were repeating 
in stumbling speech those old, vague phrases that had 
been proved false again and again, to the complete 
satisfaction of their own minds. And yet they lingered, 
drawn by their faint souls towards doubt and vacillation. 

The day declined. The men had arrived at no final 
resolution. Then, about seventy-five officers, led by 
Lieutenant-Colonel Ivanov, came to me to ask permis- 
sion to enter the ranks of the Battalion for a joint 
advance. They were followed by about three hundred 
of the most intelligent and gallant soldiers in the regi- 
ment. Altogether, the Battalion's ranks had swollen 
to about a thousand. I offered the command to Lieuten- 
ant-Colonel Ivanov as to a superior, but he declined. 

Every officer was provided with a rifle. The line was 
so arranged that men and women alternated, a girl 
being flanked by two men. The officers, now number- 
ing about a hundred, were stationed at equal distances 
throughout the line. 

We decided to advance in order to shame the men, 
having arrived at the conclusion that they would not 
let us perish in No Man's Land. We all felt the gravity 
of the decision. We had nothing to justify our belief 
that the men would not abandon us to our fate, except 

feeling that such a monstrosity could not happen. 
Besides, something had to be done. An offensive had 
to be launched soon. The front was rapidly deterior- 
ating to a state of impotence. 

Colonel Ivanov communicated to the Commander by 

p 



210 YASHKA 

telephone the decision of the Battalion. It was a 
desperate gamble, and every one of us realized the grim- 
ness of the moment. The men on our flanks were 
joking and deriding us. 

" Ha, ha ! The women and officers will fight ! " 
they jeered. 

" They are pretending. Who ever saw officers go 
over the top like soldiers, with rifles in hand ? " 

" Just watch those women run ! " joked a fellow, amid 
a chorus of merriment. 

We clenched our teeth in fury but did not reply. Our 
hope was still in these men. We clung to the belief 
that they would follow us over the top and, therefore, 
avoided giving them cause for offence. 

At last the signal was given. We crossed ourselves 
and, hugging our rifles, leaped out of the trenches, 
every one of our lives dedicated to " the country and 
freedom." We moved forward under a devastating 
fire from machine guns and artillery, my brave girls, 
encouraged by the presence of men at their sides, march- 
ing steadily against the hail of bullets. 

Every moment brought death with it. There was 
but one thought in every mind : " Will they follow ? " 
Each fleeting instant seemed like an age that lurid 
morning. Already several of us were struck down, an(i 
yet no one came after us. We turned our heads every 
now and then, piercing the darkness in vain for support. 
Many heads were raised above the trenches in our rear. 
The laggards were wondering if we were in earnest. No, 
they decided that it was all a trick. How could a 
bare thousand women and officers attack after a two- 
days' bombardment on a front of several miles ? It 
seemed incredible, impossible. 

But, dauntless of heart and firm of step, we moved 
forward. • Our losses were increasing, but our line was 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 211 

unbroken. As we advanced further and further into 
No Man's Land, the shadows finally swallowing us 
completely, with only the fire of explosions revealing 
our figures at times to the eyes of our men in the rear, 
their hearts were touched. 

Through the din and crash of the bombardment we 
suddenly caught the sound of a great commotion in the 
rear. Was it a feeling of shame that stirred them from 
their lethargy ? Or was it the sight of this handful of 
intrepid souls that aroused their spirit ? Anyhow, they 
were roused at last. Numbers had already climbed over 
the top and were running forward with shouts, and in a 
few moments the front to the right and left of us became 
a swaying mass of soldiers. First our regiment poured 
out and then, on both sides, the contagion spread and 
unit after unit joined in the advance, so that the entire 
corps Was on the move. 

We swept forward and overwhelmed the first German 
line, and then the second. Our regiment alone captured 
two thousand prisoners. But there was poison awaiting 
us in that second line of trenches. Vodka and beer were 
in abundance. Half of our force got drunk forthwith, 
throwing themselves ravenotisly on the alcohol. My 
girls did splendid work here, destroyiiig the stores of 
liquor at my orders. But for that, the whole regiment 
would have been drunk. I rushed about appealing 
to the men to stop drinking. 

" Are you mad ? " I pleaded. " We must take the 
third line yet, and then the Ninth Corps will come to» 
relieve us and keep up the push." 

I realized that the opportunity was too precious 
to be lost. " We must take the third line and make a 
breach in their defences," I thought, " so as to turn 
this blow into a general offensive." 

But the men were succumbing one by one to the 



212 YASHKA 

terrible curse. And there were the wounded to be taken 
care of. Some of my girls were killed outright, many J 
were wounded. The latter almost all behaved like i 
Stoics. I can see, even now, the face of Klipatskaya, 
one of my soldiers, lying in a pool of blood. I ran up > 
to her and tried to help her, but it was too late. She^j 
had twelve wounds, from bullets and shrapnel. Smiling:? 
faintly her last smile, she said : 

" My dear, it's no matter." 

The Germans organized a counter-attack at this 
moment. It was a critical time, but we met the shock 
of the attack with our bayonets. As usual in such 
cases, the enemy turned and fled. We pursued them 
and swept them out of their third line, driving themj 
into the woods ahead of us. 

We had hardly occupied the enemy's third line when 
orders came by field telephone from the Commander| 
to keep up the pursuit so as not to allow the Gerniansj 
to entrench themselves, with a promise that the support 
ing corps would start out immediately. We cautiousl 
sent some patrols into the woods to find out the strengt 
of the enemy. I led one such scouting party, and w 
able to detect that the German force was being slow! 
but steadily augmented. It was then decided that W( 
should immediately advance into the forest and occup; 
positions there till reinforcements arrived enabling ui 
to resume the advance. 

It was early dawn. The Germans being in t 
•thick of the woods had the advantage of observin, 
every movement we made, while we could not see the: 
at all. We were met by such a violent and effectivi 
fire that our soldiers lost heart and took to their he 
by the hundred, reducing our force to about eight hun' 
dred, two hundred and fifty of whom were those of mji 
girls who had escaped death or injury. 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 213 

Our situation rapidly became critical. The line 
running through the forest was long. Our numerical 
strength was wholly inadequate for it. Our flanks were 
unprotected. Our ammunition was running low. For- 
tunately, we turned on the enemy several of his own 
abandoned machine guns. We stripped the dead of 
rifles and bullets. And we reported to the Commander 
that we had been deserted under fire by the men and 
were in imminent danger of capture. The Commander 
begged us to hold out till three o'clock when the Ninth 
Corps would come up to our succour. 

Had the Germans had any idea of the size of our 
force we should not have remained there more than a 
few minutes. We dreaded every moment that we 
should be outflanked and surrounded. Our line was 
stretched out so that each soldier held a considerable 
number of feet, our force altogether covering a distance 
of two miles. The Germans organized an attack on the 
left flank. Aid was despatched from the right flank, 
which was left almost without machine guns, and the 
attack was repulsed. In this engagement Lieutenant- 
Colonel Ivanov was wounded. There were many other 
wounded officers and men lying about. We could not 
spare the hands necessary to carry them to the first-aid 
dressing stations far away in our rear. 

Three o'clock came, and the expected reinforcements 
were not yet in sight. The Germans made an attack on 
the right flank. My adjutant, Lieutenant Filippov, was 
now commanding there. As our line was curved, he 
ardered the machine guns on the left flank to direct a 
slanting fire at the advancing enemy. At the same 
time our artillery was instructed to let down a barrage 
in the same section, and the attack was repulsed. 

At my request the Commander sent out about a 
hundred stretcher-bearers to collect the dead and 



214 YASHKA 

wounded scattered between our former line and the 
captured German third line. About fifty of my girls 
were dead and more than a hundred wounded. 

Meanwhile the sun had risen and time was passing. 
Our condition grew desperate. We sent an urgent 
appeal for help to Headquarters. From the other end 
of the wire came the appalling answer : 

" The Ninth Corps has been holding a meeting. It 
arrived from the reserve billets and went forward till 
it came to the trenches we had held before the attack. 
There it stopped, wavered, and began to debate whether 
to advance or not." 

We were struck by the news as if by some terrific 
blow. It was crushing, unimaginable, unbelievable. 

Here we were, a few hundred women, officers, men 
— all on the brink of a precipice, in imminent danger ol" 
being surrounded and wiped out of existence. And 
there, within a mile or two, were they, thousands of 
them, with the fate of our lives, the fate of this whole 
movement, nay, the fate, perhaps, of all Russia, in 
their hands. And they were debating ! 

Where was justice ? Where was brotherhood ? 
Where was manhood and decency ? 

" How can you leave your comrades and those brave 
women to certain destruction ? " the Commander ap- 
pealed to them. "Where is your sense of honour and 
justice and comradeship ? " 

The officers begged and implored their men to i^o 
forward as our calls for help grew more and more insis- 
tent. There was no response. The men said thcv 
would defend their positions in case of a German attack, 
but would not take part in any offensive. 

It was in these desperate circumstances, as I was 
rushing about from position to position, exposing mysdl' 
to bullets in the hope that I might be struck dead rather 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 215 

than see the collapse of the whole enterprise, that I 
came across a couple hiding behind a trunk of a tree. 
One of the pair was a girl belonging to the Battalion, 
the other a soldier. They were making love ! 

This was even more overpowering than the delibera- 
tions of the Ninth Corps, which were sentencing us 
to annihilation. I was almost out of my senses. My 
mind failed to grasp that such a thing could be really 
happening at a moment when we were trapped like rats 
at the enemy's mercy. My heart turned into a raging 
caldron. In an instant I flung myself upon the couple, 

I ran my bayonet through the girl. The man took 
to his heels before I could strike him, and escaped. 

There being no immediate prospect of a conclusion of 
the debate in the Ninth Corps, the Commander ordered 
us to save ourselves by retreat. The difficulty was to 
extricate ourselves without being detected by the Ger- 
mans. I ordered first one group to go back some distance 
and stop, and then another and then a third group 
to do the same till we reached almost the fringe of the 
forest. It was a slow and perilous undertaking, full 
of anxious moments during the shiftings of the line, 
but everything went smoothly and our hopes were raised. 

Our line was drawn in, and we were preparing for 
the final retreat when terrific shouts of " Hurrah ! " 
suddenly rang out, almost simultaneously, on both 
flanks. We were half surrounded ! Another quarter of 
an hour and the net would have completely surrounded 
us. There was no time to lose. I ordered a helter- 
skelter retreat. 

The German artillery increased in violence, and the 
enemy's rifles played havoc with us from both sides. I 
ran for all I was worth several hundred feet, till knocked 
unconscious by the terrific concussion of a shell that 
landed near me. My adjutant, Lieutenant Filippov, 



216 YASHKA 

saw me fall, picked me up and dashed through the 
devastating fire, the German trench system, the open 
space that was No Man's Land before the offensive, and 
into the Russian trenches 

There the Ninth Corps was still debating. But it 
was already too late. As the breathless survivors of 
the Battalion, bespattered with mud and blood, made 
their way one by one into our trenches, it became 
obvious that there was no use in any further delibera- 
tions. The offensive had been all to no purpose. The 
Germans re-occupied, without opposition, all the ground 
and trenches we had won at such terrible cost. There 
were only two hundred women left in the ranks of my 
Battalion. 

I regained consciousness at a hospital in the rear. I 
was suffering from shell-shock. My hearing was affected 
and, while I could understand what was said to me, I 
was unable to talk. I was sent to Petrograd and was 
met at the station by a distinguished gathering, including 
many of my patronesses and some distinguished army 
officers. Kerensky sent his adjutant. General Vasil- 
kovsky, successor to Polovtzev as Commander of the 
Petrograd Military District, was also present. I was 
deluged with flowers and kisses. But to all the con- 
gratulations I could make not a sound in reply, lying 
motionless on the stretcher. 

I was taken to a hospital and given a large, beautiful 
room. Kerensky came to see me, kissed me on the 
forehead, and presented me with a handsome bouquet. 
He made a little speech, apologizing for the trouble he 
had given me in the controversy about introducing 
the committee system in the Battalion, praising me for 
my bravery, and declaring that I had set a wonderful 
example to the men all over the front. He invited me 
to call on. him as soon as I got well. 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 217 

President Rodzianko visited me the following day. 
He was very depressed and pessimistic over the condition 
of the country. 

" Russia is perishing," he said, " and there is no 
salvation in prospect for her. Kerensky relies too much 
on his own power, and is blind to what is going on around 
him. General Kornilov requested that Kerensky should 
grant him the necessary authority to restore discipline 
in the army, but Kerensky refused, saying that he was 
able to accomplish it himself in his own fashion." 

While I was in the hospital a delegate from the front 
brought me a testimonial from my Corps Committee ! 
It appeared that two days after I was wounded the 
Committee, which usually comprised the more intelli- 
gent soldiers, met in session and discussed all night how 
they could best reward my conduct. A resolution was 
passed in which praise and thanks were expressed to 
me for brave leadership in an attack which resulted in 
the capture of two thousand prisoners. The testimonial 
was a record of the resolution, signed by the members 
of the Corps Committee. Later, the men would have 
done anything to revoke their signatures, as they deeply 
regretted this tribute to me, an implacable enemy of 
the Germans, from the entire corps, which was infected 
even then with the Bolshevist spirit. 

I learned that Lieutenant Filippov had taken charge of 
the Battalion, gathering the survivors from all the units 
with which they identified themselves during and after 
the retreat. However, he did not remain with the 
Battalion, resigning in order to join an aviation 
detachment in the south, after he had organized the 
remnant of my unit. It was also reported to me that 
the Commander of the Corps had recommended me for 
a cross. 

Another week passed before I recovered my speech and 



218 YASHKA 

my normal condition, although the effects of the shock 
did not disappear completely for some weeks. A woman 
friend of mine told me that Komilov was expected to 
arrive in Petrograd the next day, and that his relations 
with Kerensky were strained, on account of their different 
views as to the restoration of discipline at the front. I 
telephoned to the Winter Palace for an appointment, 
and the War Minister's adjutant reported my request 
to Kerensky, who said that he could receive me imme- 
diately, even sending his car for me. 

Kerensky welcomed me heartily, expressing his glad- 
ness at my recovery. He asked me what was the 
reason why the soldiers would not fight. In reply I 
told him in detail the story of my fruitless offensive, 
how the men had called meetings and debated for hours 
and days whether to advance or not. I told only the 
facts, as narrated above, and Kerensky was deeply 
impressed. In conclusion I said : 

" You can see for yourself that the committees stand 
for talk, endless talk. An army that- talks is not a 
fighting army. In order to save the front it is necessary 
to abolish the committees and introduce strict discipline. 
General Kornilov seems to be the man to accomplish 
this. I believe he can do it. All is not yet lost. Witli 
an iron hand the Russian Army can be restored. 
Kornilov has such a hand. Why not give him the 
right to use it ? " 

Kerensky agreed with me generally. " But," he 
said, " Kornilov wants to restore the old regime. He 
may take the power into his own hands and put back 
the Tsar on the throne." 

This I could not believe, and I said so to Kerensky. 
He replied that he had grounds for believing that Korni- 
lov wanted the monarchy re-established. 

" If you are not convinced," Kerensky continued, 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 219 

" go over to General Headquarters, have a talk with 
Kornilov, find out all you can about his intentions, and 
come back to report to me." 

I realized immediately that Kerensky was asking me 
to act for him in the role of a secret agent, but I was 
interested. The thought occurred to me again and 
again : 

" What if Kerensky is right, and Kornilov really 
wants the Tsar back ? " 

My country was in a bad state, but I dreaded to think 
of a return of Tsarism. If Kornilov was for the old 
regime, then he was an enemy of the people, and Keren- 
sky was right in hesitating to invest the General with 
supreme authority. I therefore accepted his proposal. 

I was, however, uneasy at the thought of the errand 
I had undertaken and resolved to go to Rodzianko, whom 
I look upon as my best friend, and make a clean breast of 
it. When I told him of my conversation with Kerensky 
he said : 

" This is Kerensky 's old game — suspecting everybody 
of being for the old regime. I don't believe it of Korni- 
lov. He is an honest, straightforward man. Still, if 
you feel in doubt about it yourself, come, let us go over 
together to Headquarters. Do not go as a spy, but tell 
Kornilov the truth to his face." 

We took a train for General Headquarters and were 
admitted to Kornilov soon after our arrival. I told 
him frankly what had passed between Kerensky and 
myself a couple of days before. Kornilov reddened. 
He jumped up and began to pace the room in a rage. 

" The scoundrel ! The upstart ! I swear by the 
honour of an old soldier that I do not want Tsarism 
restored. I love the Russian moujik as much as any 
man in the country. We have fought together and 
understand one another. If I were only given authority. 



220 YASHKA 

I would soon restore discipline by punishing, if necessary, 
a few regiments. I could organize an offensive in a 
few weeks, beat the Germans and have peace this year 
even now. He is driving the country to perdition, the 
rascal ! " 

Kornilov's words were like sword-thrusts. There was 
no question but that the man spoke from the depth of 
his soul. His agitation was real beyond a doubt. He 
continued to walk the room fiercely, talking of the 
certain collapse of the front if measures were not taken 
without delay. 

. " The idiot ! He cannot see that his days are num- 
bered. Bolshevism is spreading rapidly in the army, 
and it will not be long before the tide swamps him. To- 
day he allows Lenin to carry on his propaganda in the 
army without hindrance. To-morrow Lenin will have 
got the upper hand, and everything will be wrecked." 

We left Komilov, and I had to decide whether to make 
a report to Kerensky or not. I must confess to a feeling 
of shame' when I thought of how I had carried out the 
errand. I therefore asked Rodzianko to tell Kerensky 
of Kornilov's attitude toward Tsarism and I boarded a 
train for Moscow, where I had been Invited t'o review 
the local Women's Battalion, organized in imitation of 
mine. There were many such battalions formed all 
over Russia. 

When I arrived at the barracks and was taken before 
the fifteen hundred girls who had enlisted in the Moscow 
unit, I nearly fainted at the sight of them. They were 
nearly all rouged, they were wearing slippers and fancy 
stockings, they were wantonly dressed and very casual 
in their bearing. There were a good many soldiers 
about, and their behaviour with the girls was revolting. 

" What is this, a house of shame ? " I cried out in 
my grief. . " You are a disgrace to the army ! I would 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 221 

have you disbanded at once, and I shall do my best to 
see that you are not sent to the front ! " 

A storm of protest broke loose. 

" What is all this, the old regime or what ? " shouted 
some indignant, voices. 

" What's that ? Discipline ? How dare she talk in 
that fashion ? " cried others. 

In a moment I was surrounded by a mob of indignant 
men who drew closer and closer, threatening to kill me. 
The officer who accompanied me apparently knew the 
temper of the crowd and realized the danger I had 
brought upon myself. He sent an urgent call to General 
Verkhovsky, Commander of the Moscow Military Dis- 
trict, who was very popular with all the troops. 

Meanwhile my escort was doing his best to calm the 
raging throng which soon grew to about one thousand. 
Closer and closer the circle drew in about me, and I was 
ready to say my last prayers. One man tripped me by 
the foot, and I fell. Another brought down the heel 
of his boot on my back. Only another minute and I 
should have been lynched. But God was with me. 
Verkhovsky arrived not an instant too soon and dashed 
into the crowd, which separated to make way for him. 
He addressed a few words to the men. They had a 
magic effect. I was saved. 

From Moscow I went to the front, and v/hen my girls 
saw me arrive there was general jubilation. " The 
Commander has come back ! " they shouted, as they 
danced about. They had had a hard time in my absence, 
but unfortunately I did not remain long. In the evening 
of the day of my arrival a telegram came from General 
Kornilov, requesting my immediate presence. I left 
without delay for Army Headquarters, and there met 
the Commander-in-Chief and Rodzianko. The three of 
us went to Petrograd to see Kerensky. It was on the 



222 YASHKA 

eve of the great Moscow Assembly, which met on the 
28th of July. 

During this journey Komilov talked of his childhood. 
He was born in Mongolia, the son of a Russian father 
and a Mongolian mother. The conditions of life some 
fifty years ago in the Far East were such as to innure 
one to any hardships. Thence it was that Komilov 
derived his contempt for danger and his spirit of adven- 
ture. He was given a good education by his father, 
who, I believe, was a frontier trader of peasant stock, 
but rose to his high position by sheer ability and dogged- 
ness. He learned to speak a dozen languages and 
dialects, more from mixing with all kinds of people than 
from books. In short, Kornilov was not of an aristo- 
cratic family or brought up in select surroundings. His 
knowledge of men and affairs was gained at first hand. 
He had enjoyed close contact with the Russian moujik 
and workman. Himself of reckless valour, he came 
to love the Russian peasant-soldier for his contempt of 
death. 

Upon our arrival at Petrograd we all went together 
to the Winter Palace. Kornilov entered Kcrensky's 
study first, leaving us to wait in the anti-chamber. It 
was a long wait for Rodzianko and myself. Komilov 
remained locked up with Kerensky for two whole hours, 
and our ears bore witness to the stormy nature of the 
interview inside. When the Commander-in-Chief final!}' 
emerged from the office his face was flushed. 

Rodzianko and I were admitted next. Kerensky was 
visibly agitated. He said that he had not expected m( 
to carry out his errand in such a manner. I had not 
acted rightly, he declared. 

" Perhaps I am guilty towards you. Minister," I 
replied. " But I acted according to my conscience, and 
did what I felt was my duty to the country." 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 223 

Rodzianko then addressed Kerensky in some such 
manner as the following : 

" Botchkareva reports from the front that you are 
rapidly losing favour with both men and officers ; the 
officers because of the decay of discipline, the men 
because of their desire to go home. Now, consider what 
is happening to the army. It is going to pieces. The 
fact that the soldiers could allow a group of women and 
officers to perish is proof that the situation is critical. 
Something must be done immediately. Give absolute 
authority in the army to Kornilov, and he will save the 
front. And do you remain at the head of the Govern- 
ment, to save us from Bolshevism." 

I joined Rodzianko in his plea. " We are rapidly 
nearing an abyss," I urged, " and it will soon be too 
late. Kornilov is an honourable man, I am convinced 
of it. Let him save the army now, so that people 
shall not say afterwards that Kerensky destroyed the 
country ! " 

" That will never happen ! " he cried, banging his 
fist on the table. " I know what I am doing ! " 

" You are destroying Russia ! " exclaimed Rodzianko, 
angered by Kerensky 's arrogance. " The blood of the 
country will be on your head." 

Kerensky turned red, then white as a corpse. His 
appearance frightened me. I thought he would fall 
down dead. 

" Go ! " he shrieked, beside himself, pointing toward 
the door. "Leave this room ! " 

Rodzianko and I moved to the exit. At the door 
Rodzianko stopped for a moment, turned his head and 
flung a few biting words at the Minister. 

Kornilov was waiting for us in the ante-room. We 
drove to Rodzianko's house for luncheon. There, 
Kornilov related to us the substance of his conference 



224 YASHKA 

with Kerensky. He had told him that the soldiers 
were deserting the front in droves and that those who 
remained were useless, as they visited the German 
trenches every night and came back drunk in the morn- 
ing. The fraternization had extended to the entire 
front. A whole Austrian regiment, well provided with 
liquor, came over to our trenches at one point and a 
debauch followed. , Kornilov described the experience 
of my Battalion as related in official reports that had 
reached him and declared that numerous messages from 
officers asking for instructions were coming to him 
daily. But what instructions could he give ? He had 
to seek instructions himself from Kerensky. 

At this point the Minister asked him what was to be 
done, and he replied that capital punishment must 
be re-established, that the committees must be abolished, 
that the Commander-in-Chief must be given full 
authority to disband units and execute agitators and 
rebels, if the front was to be saved from collapse and 
the country from an immense disaster. 

Kerensky replied that Komilov's suggestions were 
impracticable, that all that could be done was for the 
officers to submit the various complications arising 
at the front to the Regimental, Corps and Army 
Committees for solution. Kornilov retorted that the 
committees had already, again and again, been con- 
fronted with such problems, had them investigated 
and confirmed, passed resolutions of censure and obtained 
pledges from the men that they would not repeat the 
offences, but like weak children the soldiers would 
immediately resume drinking and fraternizing. Only 
rigid discipline, he insisted, could make the Russian 
Army a force to be reckoned with. 

However, Kerensky was obstinate. He would not 
consent to put Kornilov's recommendation into practice. 



ERRAND FROM KERENSKY TO KORNILOV 225 

A deadlock was reached which aroused Kornilov's 
temper. He blurted out : 

" You are driving the country to destruction. You 
know that the Allies already regard us with contempt. 
Should our front collapse they would consider Russia a 
traitor. You are under the delusion that the rank and 
file still believe in you. But almost all of them are 
Bolsheviks now. Only a little while, and you will find 
yourself overthrown, and your name will go down in 
history as the destroyer of the country. All your life 
you fought Tsarism. Now you are even worse than the 
Tsar was. Here you sit in the Winter Palace, unwilling 
to leave, too jealous to hand over the power to some one 
else. Although I knew the Tsar well, your distrust of 
me and belief that I am in favour of Tsarism now is 
utterly unfounded. How can I be in favour of a Tsar 
when I love my country and the moujik ? My whole 
aspiration is to build up a strong democratic nation, by 
means of a Constituent Assembly and a chosen leader. 
I want Russia to be powerful and progressive. Give 
me a free hand in the army and our Motherland will 
be saved." 

Kerensky heatedly rejected Kornilov's request. 

" You will have to resign," he exclaimed, " and I 
will appoint Alexeiev in your place, and use force 
against you in the event of your failure to obey me ! " 

" Scoundrel ! " exclaimed Kornilov, and he left 
Kerensky's study. 

During lunch Kornilov told Rodzianko that if Keren- 
sky carried out his threat he would lead the Savage 
Division, consisting of tribesmen loyal to him, against 
Kerensky. Rodzianko pleaded against such action, 
begging Kornilov jiot to war against the Government, 
as that would divide the country into several factions 
and lead to civil war. After a long, private conversation 

Q 



226 YASHKA 

Kornilov was induced by the President of the Duma to 
stick to his post as Commander-in-Chief for the sake of 
the peace of the nation. 

At the table I also learned that General Alexeiev had 
more than once been offered the Chief Command, but 
had decUned to take it unless he had authority to exercise 
a free hand. It also appeared that Kerensky was grow- 
ing more and more autocratic and irritable, and was 
reluctant to see people and accept advice. 

I parted from Rodzianko and Kornilov. The latter 
kissed me and pledged his friendship to me for my efforts 
to maintain discipline. I returned to the front, while 
they went to Moscow to attend the Assembly. 

My heart was heavy with sorrow. It was five months 
since freedom was born, only five months. But what 
a nightmare it had become ! We were at war, but 
playing with the enemy. We were free, but disorder 
was on the increase. Our best men were happy and 
united five months ago. Now, they were divided and 
quarrelling among themselves. The people were divided, 
too. When the revolution first broke all had rejoiced 
together, the soldier, the townsman, the peasant, the 
workman, the merchant. All were glad. All hoped for 
good and happiness. Now, there had sprung up a 
number of parties that were setting one group of the 
people against the other. Each of them claimed to 
have the truth. All of them promised a blissful era, 
but what was good to one was evil to the other. They 
talked, argued, fought among themselves. And the 
minds of the people grew confused and their hearts 
divided. In the face of such a terrible foe as the 
Germans, how long could a disunited country endure ? 
I prayed to God for Russia. 



CHAPTER XV 

THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 

MY women were enthusiastic over the return of 
their Commander. I reported to the Com- 
mander of the Corps and was invited to luncheon with 
the Staff. The officers were interested to know what 
was going on in the rear. I did not tell them the details 
of the quarrel between the Prime Minister and the 
Commander-in-Chief, but I did indicate in general terms 
that a difference had arisen. 

Toward the end of the meal it was reported that the 
Chairman of the Corps Committee had come to see the 
Commander on important business. It appeared that 
the corps in the trenches was to be. relieved at seven 
in the evening and orders had been issued to the corps in 
reserve, some miles behind, to move toward the trenches 
at five in the morning. However, they had not moved. 
The Chairman now came to explain the cause of the 
delay. He was himself a patriotic and intelligent soldier 
and was asked to sit down by the General while he told 
the story. 

" The rascals ! " he said of the men who had elected 
him as their leader, " they wouldn't move. They have 
been holding meetings all the morning and refuse to go 
to relieve their comrades." 

We were all shocked. The General became excited. 

" What the devil ! " he exclaimed angrily. " That 

227 



228 YASHKA 

passes all bounds ! If the soldiers refuse to relieve the 
very men who had relieved them a couple of weeks 
ago, then there is no use in continuing at the front, 
making a pretence of war. It's a farce ! It's no use 
staying here, let them lay down their arms and go home 
and save the Government the trouble of keeping u]) 
the semblance of an army. The villains ! Just shoot 
a few of them, and they will learn to do their duty ! At 
seven o'clock the trenches will be empty. Go and tell 
them that I command them to move immediately ! " 

The Chairman returned to the billets and told his 
soldiers that the General ordered them into the trenches 
under penalty of death. This incensed the men. 
" Aha, he is threatening to shoot ! " cried one. 
" He's of the old regime," exclaimed another. 
" He wants to practise on us the Tsar's methods ! " 
shouted several voices. 

" He is a blackguard ! " suggested another. 
" He ought to be killed ! He wants to rule us with 
an iron hand ! " the men roared, working themselves 
up to a fever. 

Meanwhile the news came from the trenches that the 
men were holding meetings there, proclaiming their 
determination not to remain in their position after seven 
o'clock. The General was in great difficulty. He was 
faced with the probabiUty of his section of the front being 
left entirely open to the enemy. He telephoned to the 
reserve billets and asked the Chairman of the Com- 
mittee what was going on there. 

Suddenly the General grew pale, dropped the receiver 
and said : 

" They want to kill me." 

Chief of Staff Kostayev took up the receiver and in a 
trembling voice inquired what the trouble was. I 
listened to the answer. 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 2529 

"They are in an ugly mood. Ihey have mutinied 
and threaten to mob the General. The excitement is 
spreading, and some of them have already started out 
for Headquarters." 

The voice of the Chairman at the other end of the 
wire was clearly expressive of his alarm. In reply to 
questions what the General could do to calm the mob 
he said that the committee admired and respected the 
General, that its members were doing their best to allay 
the passions that had been aroused, but seemed helpless. 

A few minutes later several officers and men ran 
into the house, greatly agitated. 

" General, you are lost if you don't get away in 
time ! " one of them said. 

Shortly afterwards Colonel Belonogov, a man of 
sterling heart, beloved by his soldiers even before the 
revolution, rushed in. He brought the same tidings, 
asking the General to hide. I joined in, imploring the 
Commander to conceal himself till the storm had passed. 
But he refused. 

"Why should I hide?" he exclaimed. "What 
wrong have I done ? Let them come and kill me ! I 
have only done my duty." 

He went into his study and locked himself in. 

The mob was moving nearer and nearer. There was 
a deathly pallor on the faces of all those present. Every 
minute or so some one would dash in breathlessly, with 
eyes full of horror, to herald the approaching tempest. 

The tide of tumultuous humanity reached the house. 
There were cries and howls. For a second we were all in 
suspense. Then Colonel Belonogov said he would go 
out and talk to them and try to make them see reason. 
The Colonel had a gentle voice and a gentle heart. He 
never addressed even his own orderly in the ordinary 
fashion. When a little time before he had asked to 



230 YASHKA 

be transferred to another position, his own soldiers 
persuaded him into staying where he was. 

In a word the Colonel was an exceptional man. 
Without question there was no other officer in the Corps 
as fit as he to undertake the task of mollifying an excited 
mob. He went out on the porch and calmly faced the 
steadily increasing multitude. 

" Where is the General ? Where is he ? We want 
to kill him ! " the savage chorus bawled. 

" What are you thinking of ? " the Colonel began. 
" Come to your senses and consider the order. It was 
an order to relieve your own comrades, soldiers like 
yourselves. Now, you know that this was no more than 
fair. The General simply wanted you to take the 
places of your comrades." 

" But he threatened to shoot us ! " interrupted the 
men. 

" You did not quite understand. He only said gener- 
ally that to get obedience one must shoot. . . ." 

" Shoot ! " a hundred voices went up from every 
side, catching the word but not the meaning. 

" Shoot ! Aha, he wants to shoot ! He's for the 
old regime himself ! " a thousand voices roared, without 
even giving the ashen-faced Colonel a chance to explain. 

" Kill him ! Show him what shooting is ! " raged the 
vast throng, while the speaker tried vainly to. raise his 
voice and get a hearing. 

Suddenly some one jerked the stool from under his 
feet. In an instant a hundred heavy heels had trampled 
the life out of that noble body. It was a horrible, 
terrifying scene. Several thousand men had turned 
into beasts. The lust of blood was in their eyes. They 
swayed backwards and forwards as if intoxicated, 
crushing the last signs of life out of their victim, stamping 
on the corpse in a frenzy. 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 231 

The mob's thirst for blood became inflamed. The 
officers reaHzed that every moment was precious, 
Kostayev thought that the only way to save ourselves 
was to escape through the rear of the house. 

" I will go out to them," I declared. 

The remaining officers thought me mad and tried to 
dissuade me. 

" Belonogov was the idol of his regiment, and see 
what's become of him. If you go it is certain death," 
they said. Colonel Kostayev disappeared and several of 
the Staff followed him. 

I could not see how the situation would be saved by 
escaping. It might save a couple of lives, although 
even that was unMkely, but the mutiny would extend and 
might grow beyond control. " I will go out," I resolved, 
crossed myself and dashed into the infuriated mob. 

" What is the matter ? " I shouted at the top of my 
voice. " What has happened to you ? Let me pass ! " 

The crowd separated and made a way for me to the 
stool. 

" Look at her ! " jeered some voices. 

" Eh, eh, look at this bird ! " echoed others. 

" Your Excellency ! " scoffed one man. 

*' Now," I began sharply, as soon as I had jumped on 
the stool. " I am no ' your Excellency ! ' but plain 
Yashka ! You can kill me right away, or you can kill 
me a little later, five, ten minutes later. But Yashka 
will not be afraid. 

" I will have my say. Before you slay me I must 
speak my mind. Do you know me ? Do you know that 
I am one of you, a plain peasant soldier ? " 

" Yes, we do," the men answered. 

" Well," I resumed, '' why did you kill this man ? " 
and I pointed at the disfigured body at my feet. " He 
was the kindest officer in the Corps. He never beat, 



232 YASHKA 

never punished a soldier. He was always courteous, 
to privates and officers alike. He never spoke contemp- 
tuously to any one. Only a month ago he wanted to 
be transferred and you insisted on keeping him. That 
was four weeks ago. Had he changed, could he have 
changed, in such a short time ? 

" He was like a father to his men. Weren't you 
always proud of him ? Didn't you always boast that 
in his regiment the food was good, the soldiers were 
well shod, the baths were regular ? Didn't you, of 
your own accord, reward him with a Soldiers' Cross, the 
highest honour that the free Russian army has to offer ? 

" And now you have killed, with your own hards, 
this nv'ble soul, this rare example of human kindness. 
Why? 

" Why did you do it ? " I turned fiercely on the 
men. 

" Because he was of the exploiting class," came one 
answer. 

*' They all suck our blood! " shouted, some others. 

" Why let her talk ? Who is she that she should 
question us ? " somebody cried out. 

"Kill her! Kill her, too! Kill them all! We 
have shed enough of our blood ! The bourgeois ! The 
murderers ! Kill her ! " was shouted from many 
throats. 

" Scoundrels ! " I screamed. " You will kill me yet, 
I am at your mercy, and I came out to be killed. You 
ask why I should be allowed to talk. You ask who I 
am. As if you didn't know me! Who is Yashka 
Botchkareva ? 

" Who sent delegates to present icons to me, if not 
you ? Who had me promoted to the rank of an officer, 
if not you ? Who sent me this testimonial to Petrograd 
only a couple of weeks ago, if not you ? " 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 233 

Here I drew out from my breast pocket the resolution 
passed and signed by the Corps Committee and des- 
patched to me while I was in the Petrograd Hospital. I 
had brought it with me. Pointing to the signatures, I 
cried : 

' ' You see this ? Who signed it, if not you yourselves ? 
It is signed by the Corps Committee, your own represen- 
tatives, whom you, yourselves, elected ! " 

The men were silent. 

" Who suffered, fought with you, if not I ? Who 
saved your lives under fire, if not Yashka ? Don't you 
remember what I did for your comrades at Narotch, 
when, up to my armpits in mud, I dragged dozens of 
you to safety and life ? " 

Here, I turned abruptly on a gaping fellow, looked 
directly at him and asked : 

" Suppose the rank and file were to elect their own 
officers. Now, what would you do m the Commander's 
place, if you were chosen ? You are a plain soldier, of 
the people. Tell me what you would do ! " I thundered. 

The man looked foolish, making an effort to laugh. 

" Ha, I would see," he said, " once I got there." 

" That is no answer. Tell me what you would do if 
our Corps were in the trenches and another one refused 
to relieve it. What would you do ? What ? " I 
demanded of the whole crowd. 

" Would you hold the trenches indefinitely or leave ? 
Answer me that ! " 

" Well, we would leave, anyhow," replied a number of 
men. 

" But what are you here for," I shouted fiercely, " to 
hold the trenches or not ? " 

" Yes, to hold," they answered. 

" Then how could you leave them ? " I fired back. 

There was silence. 



234 YASHKA 

" That would be treason to Free Russia ! " I continued. 

The men bowed their heads in shame. Nobody spoke. 

" Then why did you kill him ? " I cried out bitterly. 
" What did he want you to do but hold the trenches ? " 

" He wanted to shoot us ! " several sullen voices 
replied. 

" He never said anything of the sort. What he 
wanted to say was to explain that the General did not 
threaten you either, but remarked that in other circum- 
stances your action would be punished by shooting. 
No sooner did Colonel Belonogov mention the word 
" shoot " than you threw yourself upon him without 
even giving the man a chance to finish what he was 
saying." 

" That was not what we understood. We thought 
he threatened to shoot us," the men weakly defended 
themselves. 

At this point the orderlies and friends of the murdered 
Colonel rushed up. They raised such a cry of grief 
when they saw the mutilated corpse that all speech was 
silenced. They cursed and wept and threatened the 
mob, although they were few and the crowd numbered 
thousands. 

" Murderers ! Bloodthirsty ruffians ! Whom have 
you killed ? Our little father ! Did ever soldiers 
have a better friend than he was ? Was there ever a com- 
mander who took greater care of his men ? You are 
worse than the Tsar and his hangmen. You are given 
freedom, and you act like cut- throats. You devils ! " 

And the mourners broke out in even louder lamenta- 
tions. The wailing rent the air. It gripped every- 
body's throat. Many in the mob wept. As the dead 
man's friends began to relate the various favours they 
had received from him, I could not choke down my tears 
and stepped down from the stool, convulsed with sobs. 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 235 

Meanwhile, in response to calls for help, a division 
from a neighbouring corps arrived to quell the mutiny. 
The Committee of the Division came forward and 
demanded the surrender of the ringleaders of the 
movement that had resulted in the soldiers' refusal to 
return to the trenches and in the murder of Colonel 
Belonogov. There were negotiations betM^een the two 
committees, which finally ended in the surrender by 
the mob of twenty agitators, who were placed under 
arrest. 

The officers who had fled and the General now reap- 
peared, although the latter was still afraid to order the 
soldiers to relieve the corps in the trenches. He asked 
me to broach the subject. 

I first addressed the men about the funeral. 

" We must have a coffin made. Who will do it ? " I 
asked. 

Several volunteered to get some timber and make 
one. 

" How about a grave ? We must bury him with full 
military honours," I went on. Some soldiers offered 
their services as grave-diggers. 

An officer went to look for a priest. I sent a soldier 
to the woods to make a wreath. Then I turned and 
asked : 

" Now, will you go to the trenches to relieve your 
comrades ? " 

" Yes," the men answered meekly. 

It was an unforgettable scene. These five thousand 
men, all so docile and humble, some with tears still 
fresh on their cheeks, were like a forlorn flock of sheep 
that had lost its shepherd. It seemed impossible to 
believe that these men were capable of murder. You 
could curse them now, you could even strike them, and 
they would bear it without protest. They were con- 



236 YASHKA 

scious, deeply conscious of a great crime. Quietly they 
stood, from time to time, uttering a word of regret, 
engrossed in mourning. And yet these same lambs 
were ferocious beasts two hours ago. All the gentleness 
now mirrored in their faces was then extinguished by a 
hurricane of savage passion. These obedient children 
had actually been inhuman a short time ago. It was 
incredible, and still it was the truth. 

Such is the character of the Russian people. 

The coffin, an oblong box of unshaven boards, draped 
inside and out with a white sheet, was brought at four 
o'clock. The body had been washed, but it was impos- 
sible to restore the face to its normal appearance. It 
was disfigured beyond recognition. With the help of 
some of the men, I wrapped the body in canvas and 
placed it in the coffin. Instead of one there were 
four green wreaths made. The priest began to read 
the service but could not control himself and burst into 
sobs. The General, the Staff, and I, with candles in 
our hands, were sobbing too. Immediately behind the 
coffin, as the procession started, the dead officer's 
orderly wailed in heartrending tones, recalling aloud 
the virtues of his master. Behind us marched almost 
the whole Corps, including the Regiment commanded by 
the dead man. The weeping was so general and so 
increased with every step that by the time the procession 
reached the grave the wailing could be heard for miles 
around. As the body was laid to rest everybody dropped 
a handful of sand into the grave. The lips of all were 
moving in prayer. 

The order was given that by seven o'clock the Corps 
should be moved to relieve the soldiers at the fighting 
line. I went to my girls and gave the word for them to 
be ready too. They had heard of the disturbance and had 
passed some anxious moments, and therefore they gave 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 237 

me a hearty welcome. The General had telephoned 
to the front line that the Corps was a few hours late 
and asked the soldiers there to remain in the trenches 
for the night. The distance that we had to cover was 
about ten miles, and we arrived at the front before dawn. 
The Battalion, now consisting of only some two hun- 
dred women, occupied a small sector to itself, opposite 
the town of Kreva. There was no sign of actual war- 
fare at the fighting line. Neither the Germans nor the 
Russians used their arms. Fraternization was general. 
There was a virtual, if not formal, truce. The men 
met every day, indulged in long arguments and drank 
beer brought by the Germans. 

I could not tolerate such war and ordered my women 
to conduct themselves as if everything were as usual. 
The men became very irritated by our militant attitude 
toward the enemy. A group of them, with the Chairman 
of the Regimental Committee, came over to our trench 
to discuss the matter. 

" Who are our enemies ? " began the Chairman. 
" Surely, not the Germans who want peace. It's the 
bourgeoisie, the ruling class, that is the real enemy of 
the people. It's against them that we ought to wage 
war, for they would not listen to the German peace 
proposals. Why does not Kerensky obtain peace for 
us ? Because the Allies will not let him. Well, we 
will very soon drive Kerensky out of his office ! " 

" But I am not of the ruling class. I am a plain 
peasant woman," I objected. " I have been a soldier 
since the beginning of the war and have fought in many 
battles. Don't agitate here against officers." 

" Oh, I don't mean you," he replied ; trying to win 
me over to the pacificist idea. Several German soldiers 
joined the Russian group. The discussion became 
heateci. They repeated the old argument that the 



238 YASHKA 

Germans had asked for peace and that the Allies had 
not accepted it. I replied that the Germans could have 
peace with Russia if they withdrew from the invaded 
parts of our country. So long as they kept our land, it 
was the duty of every Russian to fight and drive them 
out. 

Thus life dragged on. Nights and days passed in 
discussions. Kerensky had almost entirely lost his 
hold on the men, who were drifting more and more 
toward Bolshevism. Finally, the feud between Keren- 
sky and Kornilov reached a crisis. Kerensky asked the 
Commander-in-Chief by telephone to send some loyal 
troops to Petrograd, apparently realizing that his days j 
were numbered. Kornilov replied with a message 
through Alexeiev, requesting a written certificate from 
Kerensky, investing the Commander-in-Chief with full 
authority to restore discipline in the army. It would 
seem that Kornilov was willing to save Kerensky, 
provided the latter allowed him to save the front. 

But Kerensky evidently saw in this an opportunity 
of restoring his fallen prestige and securing his position. 
He therefore turned against Kornilov, publicly declaring 
that the latter was aiming at supreme power and he 
appealed to the workmen and soldiers to rise against 
the Commander of the army. The result was the brief 
encounter between the revolutionary masses and Korni- 
lov's Savage Division. Kornilov was defeated. Keren- 
sky triumphed, and for the moment it looked as if he 
had attained his object. All the radical forces were 
united and Kerensky, as the saviour of the revolution 
from an attempt at a counter-revolution, again became 
the idol of the soldiers and the working class. 

The larger part of the army sided with Kerensky 
when he appealed for support against Kornilov. But 
this did hot last long. Kerensky little by little lost 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 239 

the confidence of the masses which he had suddenly 
acquired, because he did not bring them the much 
desired peace. 

Those of the soldiers and officers who sided with 
Kornilov were nicknamed Kornilovetz. To call a man 
by this name was equivalent to calling him a counter- 
revolutionary, an advocate of the old regime, or an 
enemy of the people. 

The inactivity of life in the trenches became weari- 
some. One rainy day I sent out a listening party into 
No Man's Land, with instructions to shoot at the enemy 
in case of his approach. I watched the party go forward. 
Suddenly, a group of Germans, numbering about ten, 
came in the direction of our trenches. They walked 
along at their ease with their hands in their pockets, 
some whistling, others singing. I aimed my rifle at 
the leg of one of the troup and wounded him. 

The whole front was in an uproar in a second. It was 
scandalous ! Who dared do such a thing ! The Ger- 
mans and the Russians were seething with rage. Several 
of my women came running up to me greatly alarmed. 

" Commander, why did you do that ? " they asked, 
seeing me with a smoking rifle in hand. 

A number of soldiers who were friends of mine next 
hastened into our trench to warn me of the men's 
ugly temper and threats. I told them that I saw the 
Germans approach my girls and make an effort at flirta- 
tion. But this defence did not appease the soldiers. 
They placed machine guns in the first trench and were 
preparing to slaughter us all. Fortunately, we were 
informed in time and were hidden in a side trench. 
The machine guns raked our position, without causing 
any casualties. The firing was finally interrupted by 
the sharp orders of the Chairman of the Regimental 
Committee. I was called before him to give an explana- 



I 



240 YASHKA 

tioii. I bade farewell to my girls, telling them that there 
would probably be a repetition of the episode of Colonel 
Belonogov's lynching. 

I was received by the men with threats and ugly 
words. 

" Kill her ! " 

" She's a Kornilovka ! " 

" Make an end of her ! " 

I was surrounded by the members of the committee, 
who kept back the mob. Several speakers rose in my 
defence, but hardly succeeded in appeasing the crowd. 
Then an officer got up to talk in my behalf. He was 
a popular speaker. But this time his popularity did not 
avail him. He said that I was right. He would have done 
the same thing had he been in my place. That was as 
far as he got. 

" Aha, so you are a Kornilovetz too ! " shouted the 
crowd. " Kill him ! Kill him ! " 

In an instant the man was thrown off the chair and 
struck on the head. In another instant he was crushed 
to death under a thousand heels. 

Then the mob swayed in my direction. But the 
committee seized me and carried me off to the rear, 
hiding me in a dugout. One of my girls, Medvedovskaya, 
was placed at the entrance to guard it. 

Meanwhile, my girls heard what had happened and 
hurried to my aid. The mob dispersed to look for me 
and some of the men came to the dugout in which I was 
concealed. m 

" Where is Botchkareva ? Let us in to see if she ism 
there ! " they shouted. The girl sentry said she had^ 
orders to shoot if they approached near her. They did. j| 
She fired, wounding one in the side. 

The poor girl was bayoneted by the brutes. 

The committee and my friends, numbering about om 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 241 

hundred, insisted that I should be given a trial and not 
lynched. My girls were ready to die for me to the last 
one. I was taken out from the dugout by my defenders, 
who made an effort to lead me to safety for an open trial. 

The mob, which had now increased, pressed closer and 
closer. The two sides were fighting for me. It was 
agreed that no weapons were to be used in the scramble. 
The mass of humanity swayed back and forth, my girls 
fighting with the strength of infuriated wild beasts to 
stave off the mob. Now and then a man would get 
close enough to strike a blow at me. As the struggle 
developed these blows increased in number till I was 
knocked senseless. In that state my friends dragged 
me away from the scene of the struggle. 

My life was saved, although I was badly knocked 
about. It cost the lives of a loyal girl and an innocent 
friend. I was sent to Molodechno, a couple of my girls 
going with me to look after me. The Battalion was 
taken from the front to the reserve billets. But even 
there their lives were not safe. They were insulted, 
annoyed, and dubbed Kornilovki. There were daily 
tumults. The windows of their dugouts were broken. 
The officers were powerless and seldom showed their 
faces. My instructors did their best to defend me and 
the Battalion, explaining that we were non-party. 

One morning a car came for me from Headquarters 
at Molodechno. There I met the Commanding General 
of my Corps, who described the unbearable conditions 
in which my girls were placed. They were waiting for 
me, refusing to go home, unless I disbanded them. He 
had sent them to dig reserve trenches in order to keep 
them away from the m.en. They did splendid work, 
he said, but as soon as they returned the men began to 
molest them. Only the previous night a gang of soldiers 
made an assault on the dugouts in which my girls were 

R 



242 YASHKA 

billeted. They beat the sentry and broke in with the 
intention of attacking the women. There was a panic. 
Some of the girls seized their rifles and fired in the air. 
The noise attracted the attention of my instructors and 
several other soldiers, among whom there were numerous 
decent men. The situation was saved by the latter. 

But what was to be done ? Life for the Battalion was 
becoming absolutely unbearable, at least at this part of 
the front. It was difficult to understand the change 
which had come over the men in a few months. How 
long ago was it that they almost worshipped me, and I 
loved them ? Now they seemed to have lost their 
senses. 

The General advised me to disband the Battalion. 
But that would be to admit failure and despair as to 
my country's condition. I was not ready to make such 
admissions. No, I would not disband my unit. I 
would fight to the end. The General could not under- ^ 
stand my point of view. Was not the case hopelessJ 
since the soldiers had turned machine guns on the 
Battalion ? Wouldn't I have been lynched but for the J 
desperate struggle of my girls and the soldiers who were^ 
my friends ? So I resolved to go to Petrograd and ask| 
Kerensky to transfer me to a fighting sector. 

I went to see my girls before leaving for the capitaLJ 
It was a pathetic meeting. They were glad to learn of. 
my intended journey. They could not stand it much' 
longer where they were. They were prepared to fight 
the Germans, to be tortured by them, to die at their ^ 
hands or in prison camps. But they were not preparedi 
for the torments and humiliation that they were madel 
to suffer by our own men. That had never entered into^ 
our calculations at the time the Battalion was formed. li 

I took my documents with me and left the same even-| 
ing, telling my soldiers that I would not stay away) 

'I 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 243 

longer than a week, which was the limit that they 
set on their endurance. Upon my arrival in Petrograd 
I went to the quarters occupied by the Battalion 
while in training. It was evident at a glance that an 
atmosphere of depression weighed heavily on the Russian 
capital. The smiles and rejoicings were gone from the 
streets. There was gloom in the air and in everybody's 
eyes. Food was very scarce. Red Guards were plenti- 
ful. Bolshevism walked the streets openly and defiantly, 
as if its day had already come. 

My friends, who had taken an interest in the Battalion, 
were horrified to learn of conditions at the front. Their 
accounts of the state of affairs at the capital depressed 
me greatly. Kerensky, after his dispute with Kornilov, 
had cut himself off completely from his friends and 
acquaintances of the upper classes. I went to General 
Anosov, telling him of my mission. But he would not 
accompany me anywhere, although he placed his motor- 
car at my disposal. I drove to the Commander of 
the Military District, General Vasilkovsky, a Cossapk, 
who looked impressive and strong, but was actually a 
weakling. He received me cordially and asked the 
purpose of my visit to the city. He had heard of the 
rough handling I had endured and expressed his sym- 
pathy. 

" But," he added, " no one is safe in these days. I, 
myself, expect to be thrown out at any time. It is a 
matter of days, of hours, for the Government. Another 
revolution is ripening and is close upon us. Bolshevism 
is everywhere, in the factories and in the barracks. And 
how are things at the front ? " 

" The same or even worse," I answered, and I told 
him of all my trials and troubles, and the help I expected 
to obtain from him and the War Minister. 

" Nothing can help you now," he said. " The authori- 



244 YASHKA 

ties are powerless. Orders are not worth the paper on. 
which they are issued. I am going now to Verkhovsky, 
the new War Minister. Would you like to oome with 
me?" 

On the way we discussed Verkhovsky's appointment. 
He was the same man who, as Commander of the Mos- 
cow Military District, had rescued me from the mob at 
Moscow some weeks before. He was a very popular 
leader and had considerable influence with the soldiers. 

" Perhaps if he had been appointed some months ago 
he might have saved the army. But it is too late now," 
said Vasilkovsky. 

When we arrived at the War Ministry, we found that| 
Kerensky was in Verkhovsky's study. We were an-l 
nounced, and I was asked to come in first. As I opened j 
the door I saw immediately that all was lost. The Prime s 
Minister and the War Minister were both standing. 1 
They presented a pathetic, heart-breaking sight. Keren- 
sky looked like a corpse. There was not a vestige of| 
colour in his face. His eyes were red as if he had not 
slept for nights. Verkhovsky seemed to me like a 
man who is drowning, reaching for help. My hear 
sank. War had made me callous, and I was seldom] 
shocked. But this time I was nearly overcome by the 
sight of these two agonized figures. I saw the agony o^ 
Russia reflected in their despairing faces. 

They made an effort to smile, liut it was a failure.^. 
The War Minister then inquired how things were at th^ 
front. " We heard you were roughly treated," he said.^ 

I gave a detailed account of everything that I had 
myself witnessed and experienced. I told them i; 
detail about the lynching of Colonel Belonogov, of th 
officer who tried to defend me, of the bayoneting of my 
girl, of the machine guns that were turned on me becaii 
I wounded one of the enemy. 



THE ARMY BECOMES A SAVAGE MOB 245 

Kerensky seized his head in his hands and cried 
out : 

" Oh, horror ! horror ! We are perishing ! We are 
drowning ! " 

There was a tense, painful pause. 

I ended my story with the suggestion that action was 
urgently needed or all would be wrecked. 

" Yes, action is needed, but what action ? What is 
to be done now ? What would you do if you were to 
be given authority over the army ? You are a common 
soldier, tell me what you would do ? " 

" It is too late now," I answered after thinking a little 
time. " Two months ago I could have accomplished a 
great deal. Then they still respected me. Now they 
hate me." 

" Ah ! " exclaimed the War Minister. " Two months 
ago I might have saved the situation myself, if I had 
only been here then ! " 

We then discussed the purpose of my journey. I 
asked for a transfer to a more active part of the front 
and for a certificate that the Battalion was to be run 
without committees. This certificate I obtained from 
the War Minister without delay, and I still have it in 
my possession. He also agreed to my first request and 
promised to look into the matter and issue orders for 
my transfer. 

Kerensky was silent during the conversation. He 
stood like a ghost, the symbol of once mighty Russia. 
Four months before he was the idol of the nation. Now 
almost all had turned against him. As I looked at him 
I felt I was in the presence of that immense tragedy 
which was rending my country into fragments. Some- 
thing seemed to clutch my throat and shake me. I 
wanted to cry, to sob. My heart dripped blood for 
Mother Russia. What would I not have done to avert 



246 YASHKA 

that impending catastrophe ? How many deaths would 
I not have died at that moment ? 

Here was my country drifting towards an abyss. I 
could see it sliding down, down, down . . . And here 
were the heads of the Government powerless, helpless, 
clinging hopelessly to the doomed ship, despairing of 
salvation, abandoned, forlorn, stricken. . . . 

" God only knows the future — shall we ever meet 
again ? " I asked the two men in. a stifled voice, as I 
bade them farewell. 

Kerensky, livid, motionless, answered in a hoarse 
whisper : 

" Hardly." 



Part Four 

TERROR 
CHAPTER XVI 

THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 

I RETURNED to the front. The trains were fright- 
full}'^ crowded, but fortunately I found accom- 
modation in a first-class compartment. At Molodechno 
I reported to General Valuyev, Commander of the Tenth 
Army, and lunched with the staff. The General was 
painfully surprised to learn of the punishment I had 
received at the hands of the soldiers. 

" Did they really strike you ? " he asked incredulously, 
as if he found it hard to imagine the soldiers maltreating 
Yashka. 

" Yes, General, they did," I answered. 

" But why ? " 

I told him of the German I had wounded as he came 
over with several comrades. 

" God, what has become of my once glorious army ! " 
he cried out. 

" As I related to him the remaining phases of the 
episode, he punctuated my story with exclamations of 
surprise. 

At the end of the meal General Valuyev Informed me 

247 



248 YASHKA 

that I had been promoted to the rank of Captain. 
He pinned an extra star on my epaulets and congratu- 
lated me. 

I was provided with a car and driven to Corps Head- 
quarters, where I reported to my Commanding General. 
He and the officers of the Corps Staff were anxious to 
know of the latest developments in the rear. I told 
them the impression made upon me by Kerensky and 
Verkhovsky two days before. 

" Their appearance bears witness to the fact that all is 
lost," I said. 

" And how about the transfer ? " the General asked. 
" The Battalion is waiting for you to come and take it 
to a more sympathetic sector." 

I answered that orders would soon arrive for the 
transfer, and showed the certificate authorizing me to 
command without a committee. The General was glad 
for my sake. 

Meanwhile, my girls learned of my arrival. They 
formed ranks, desiring to give me a cheerful 
welcome. My presence seemed to put heart into them. 
After thanking them for their welcome, I went with them 
to mess. It was my custom to eat the same food as the 
girls. Only I seldom ate with them. Before eating, 
I usually supervised the mess, satisfying myself that 
there was plenty of food and that all was in good order. 
I knew from experience that there is nothing like food 
for keeping up a soldier's heart. 

Was it my promotion that was the cause of a happy 
mood, or my return to the girls, to whom I had grown 
deeply attached ? I don't know. But after dinner 
it occurred to me that it would be the right thing to. 
let the girls have some fun. So I suggested a game, and 
my soldiers took up the idea with delight. As the 
game proceeded, many men gathered round the circle in 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 249 

which it was going on. They watched longingly, 
clearly desirous to play too, but not daring to join in 
for fear lest I should order the girls away. It gave me 
pleasure to observe how these grown-up children longed 
to take part in the sports. But I pretended not to 
notice it. 

Finally they sent several delegates to express their 
desire to me. 

" Captain," the men said bashfully, " we want 
to speak to you." 

" All right, speak out, " I answered, " only don't 
address me as an officer. Call me plain Yashka or 
Botchkareva." 

• " May we be allowed to take part in the game ? " 
they asked, encouraged by my words. 

" Yes, but only on condition that you do not molest 
my girls and consider them as fellow-soldiers only," I 
declared. 

The men swore that they would behave, and the 
girls were not at all displeased at the new arrangement. 
They played for two or three hours, and the men kept 
their pledge. When the game ended they left with 
quite a different feeling towards me. It was a feeling 
of respect and even love, instead of their former one of 
hostility. 

The Battalion remained in the reserve billets for 
several days. There developed, as a result of that game, 
a new attitude on the part of many soldiers toward us 
women. Companies of them would come over and 
join the Battalion in sports or singing and various 
entertainments. 

The expected order for a transfer did not come 
promptly. Meanwhile, the time arrived to relieve the 
Corps in the trenches. I decided that we had had enough 
rest, and upon our arrival at the fighting line I put my 



250 YASHKA 

Battalion on a regular war footing. I sent out scouting 
parties, established observation posts, and swept No 
Man's Land with my machine guns and rifles. The 
Germans were very much agitated. Our own soldiers 
became excited too, but because of the friendly relations 
we had established in the rear, they contented them- 
selves with sending delegates and committees to argue 
the matter with me. 

" We have freedom now, you say," I argued. " You 
insist that you do not want to fight. Very well. I 
will not ask you to fight the Germans. But you have 
no right to ask me to act against my convictions. We 
came here not to fraternize but to fight, to kill and get 
killed. I claim my freedom to get killed if I want to. 
Then let me fight the Germans at my sector. Let the 
Germans fight only against the Battalion. We will 
leave you alone, and you leave us alone." 

The soldiers admitted that this was no more than 
fair and consented to such an arrangement. When they 
asked me why I was so anxious to kill Germans I told 
them that I wanted to avenge my husband who was 
slain early in the war. For this invention I had only a 
slight foundation — a rumour that had reached me of 
the death in battle of Afanasi Botchkarev. Of course, it 
was an absurd excuse. But I had used it before and I 
used it afterwards on a number of occasions, and it 
finally became widely known and believed. 

It was exhilarating to be able to do some real fighting 
again. It is true, we were a mere handful, scarcely two 
hundred women. But we raised quite a storm. Our 
machine guns rattled and No Man's Land was turned 
from a promenade for agitators and drunkards into a 
real No Man's Land. The news spread rapidly along 
the front of the activity of the Women's Battalion, 
and I believe that for hundreds of miles our little 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 251 

sector was the only fighting part of the line. I was 
naturally very proud of this distinction. 

For several days this state of affairs continued. 
Finally the Germans became so annoyed that they 
ordered their artillery to bombard my position. There 
had not been any artillery fire at our sector for some 
time, and the opening of the big guns caused tremen- 
dous excitement. Many of the men were caught in the 
bombardment and were killed or wounded. The 
Battalion's casualties were four dead and fifteen 
wounded. 

The whole Corps was roused to a high state of agita- 
tion, and a stormy meeting took place immediately. 
The men demanded my instant execution. 

" She wants war," they cried, " and we want peace. 
Kill her and make an end of it ! " 

But the members of the committee and my friends 
insisted that I acted in accordance with an agreement. 
" She only engages her own Battalion in fighting," my 
defenders argued, " and leaves us alone. It is not her 
fault that the German artillery could not find the range 
quickly and killed some of our comrades." 

When word reached me of the indignation and threats 
of the men I decided to organize an offensive of my own 
and die fighting. I requested our artillery to answer in 
kind the enemy's fire. The engagement developed into 
a regular little battle. We were firing furiously. 

While this was going on and the soldiers in the rear 
were holding the meeting the news arrived of the over- 
throw of Kerensky and the Bolshevists' victory in 
Petrograd. It was annoimced to the men by the Chair- 
man and was* hailed with such an outburst of enthusiasm 
that the shouts almost drowned the rattling of the 
machine guns. 

" Peace ! Peace ! ! " thundered through the air. 



252 YASHKA 

" We will leave the front now ! We are going home ! 
Hurrah for Lenin ! Hurrah for Trotzky ! Hurrah for 
Kolontay ! " 

" Land and freedom ! Bread ! Down with the bour- 
geoisie ! " 

As the rejoicing was at its height, the ears of the 
multitude suddenly caught the sound of the shooting 
at my sector. The men were roused to furj^ 

" Kill her ! Kill them all ! We have peace now ! " 
they roared as they stampeded in our direction. 

Several girls dashed up to me to tell me of the approach 
of the bloodthirsty mob. Almost simultaneously the 
Commanding General rang up on the field telephone. 

" Run ! " was his first word. " We are all lost. I 
am escaping myself. Go to Krasnoye Selo ! " 

I ordered my girls to seize their rifles and whatever 
belongings they could and run without stopping. To 
one of the men instructors I gave the direction in which 
we were to go, asking him to transmit the information 
to our supply detachment. 

Meanwhile the mob was advancing. It encountered 
in the immediate rear about twenty of my girls, who 
were engaged in the supporting line. 

These twenty girls were lynched by the maddened 
mob. 

Four of the instructors, who made an attempt to 
defend these innocent women, were crushed under 
the heels of the savage crowd. 

I and my remaining soldiers ran for ten miles. Al- 
though we could see no sign of pursuers we ran no 
risks. We stopped in the woods beside the road to 
Molodechno. It was dark. We drank tea for supper 
and prepared sleeping quarters under the trees. Our 
supply train came up during the night and was inter- 
cepted by one of the sentries. 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 258 

We were up at four in the morning. I had a connec- 
tion made with the telephone wire running to Army 
Headquarters at Molodechno and talked to the officer 
in charge, telling him of our approach and asking for 
dugouts. The officer replied that Molodechno was 
overflowing with deserters and that it was as dangerous 
a place for the Battalion as the front itself. 

But what could I do ? I had to go somewhere. I 
could not very well continue living in the forest. It 
was an awful situation. We had escaped from one 
mob, leaving twenty victim.s in its hands, and were 
running straight into the arms of another, perhaps even 
more bloodthirsty. So we resumed our march. Within 
two miles of Molodechno I led the Battalion far into the 
woods and left it there with the supply detachment, 
comprising twenty-five men. I went to Molodechno 
alone, having decided to make preliminary investigations 
and see what was to be done. 

Groups of soldiers here and there, in the streets of 
Molodechno, stopped me with jeering remarks : 

"Ha, there goes the Commander of the Women's 
Battalion. She demands iron discipline. Ha, ha ! " 
they would laugh, turning to me, " What now ? " 

With smiles and conciliatory answers I managed to 
get to Headquarters. I made a report to the Comman- 
dant and was assigned some dugouts for the Battalion. 
There were crowds of soldiers everywhere as I walked 
to the billets. They began to harangue me. 

"You were late with your Battalion," they said. 
" It's peace now." 

"I am always with you, I am myself a common 
peasant soldier," I answered. " If you make peace now 
I will abide by your decision. I am not going to fight 
against the people." 

" Yes, you are for the people now, but where were you 



254 YASHKA 

before ? " they inquired. " You maintained the disci- 
pline of the old regime in your Battalion." 

" If I had had no discipline," I answered, " my Bat- 
talion would have become a shameful thing. You would 
have sneered at it yourselves. Women are not like 
men. It is not customary for women to fight. Imagine 
what would have become of three hundred girls among 
thousands of men let loose without supervision and 
restraint, and you will agree with me that I was right." 

The men appreciated my argument. 

" We think you are right about that," they assented, 
and became more sympathetic. 

I requested their help in cleaning out the dugouts for 
my girls, and they gave it cheerfully. I dispatched an 
instructor for the Battalion, and by night my soldiers 
were comfortably quartered. Under the protection of 
sentinels picked from the men attached to my unit we 
passed a restful night. But our presence offered too 
good an opportunity for the agitators to let it pass. So 
in the morning after breakfast, as I started on my way 
to Headquarters, a small group of insolent soldiers, 
not more than ten in number, blocked my path, heaping 
insults upon me. 

In a few minutes the ten ruffians were increased to 
twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred. I tried to parry their 
jeers and threats, but without success. In ten minutes 
I was almost surrounded by several hundreds of these 
ruffians in uniform. 

" What do you want with me ? " I cried out, losing 
patience. 

" We want to disband your Battalion. We want you 
to surrender all the rifles to us." 

Now there can hardly be a greater dishonour for a sol- 
dier than to surrender his arms without a fight. How- 
ever, my girls knew that I hated the idea of perishing 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 255 

at the hands of a mob. When they heard of the demand 
of the crowd they all came out, with rifles in hand. 

I made a couple of attempts to argue, but it was 
apparent that the men came with the purpose fixed in 
their minds by propagandists. They would not give 
way and finally cut me short by giving me three minutes 
to decide. One of the ringleaders stood there, watch in 
hand, counting the time. Those were moments of 
indescribable agony. 

" I would rather advance against an entire German 
army than surrender arms to these Bolshevik scoun*- 
drels," I thought. But it is not my life only that is at 
stake. Everything is lost, anyhow. They say that 
peace has been declared already. Have I a right to 
play with the lives of my girls ? But, Holy Mother, how 
can I, a soldier true to my oath and loyal to my country, 
order the surrender of my Battalion's arms without a 
fight ? " 

The three minutes were up. I had arrived at no 
decision. Still, I mounted the speaker's bench. There 
was complete silence. The crowd of course expected 
my capitulation. My girls waited in great tension for 
their Commander's orders. My heart throbbed violently 
as my mind still groped for a solution. 

" Shoot ! " I suddenly shouted at the top of my 
voice to the girls. 

The men were so surprised that for a moment they 
remained petrified. They were unarmed. 

A volley from two hundred rifles went up into the 
air. 

The crowd dispersed in all directions. My order 
almost drove the men out of their senses with rage. 
They ran to their barracks for weapons, threatening to 
return and do for us all. 

The real crisis now arose. There was no question 



250 YASHKA 

that the mob would return, several times stronger, and 
tear us to pieces. A decision had to be arrived at and 
carried out instantly. It would take not more than 
ten minutes for the men to come back. If we did not 
escape it was certain death. 

" In five minutes the Battalion must be ready to 
march ! " I thundered. J. sent one of my instructors to 
the barracks, to mix with the crowd, and later report 
to me in the woods on the mob's activity. Simultane- 
ously I directed the supply detachment to follow the 
road in the direction of Krasnoye Selo. Then I called 
for a volunteer from among the instructors to take care 
of our battle flag under oath that he would defend it 
to his death. Accompanied by three other instructors 
he was sent ahead with the flag. 

All this was done in less than five minutes. It was 
no ordinary feat for a military unit to form in full 
marching formation in that space of time. But my 
girls did it. I sent one squad after another into tho 
woods, leaving with the last squad myself. 

I had fixed as our destination a certain clearing in the 
woods, five miles distant. This distance we covered 
at break-neck speed. I knew that the infuriated men 
would follow the road in pursuing us, and I ordered the 
Battalion to go into the heart of the woods. There were 
few of us who did not trip on the way several times. 
Our uniforms were torn by thorns and brambles, and 
many of us had cuts in our legs and arms. There was 
little time for dressing the wounds. 

A couple of hours later, after reaching the clearing, 
we heard a distant' whistle, the signal of the instructor I 
had left behind. He was in high glee over his own 
experience, and in spite of our precarious position we 
heartily enjoyed his story. 

The mpb, it appeared, had returned to our billets, 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 257 

as we had anticipated, fully armed. The men were in 
a ferocious mood and rushed into the dugouts. They 
were thunderstruck upon discovering that the dugouts 
were deserted ! They ran about like madmen, scouring 
the neighbourhood, but there was no sign of us. They 
could not realize that in such a brief space of time the 
Battalion had been marched away with all the equip- 
ment. 

" The witch ! " they shouted. " She must have 
spirited them away." 

But this did not seem a plausible explanation to the 
cooler heads. They telephoned to Headquarters, but 
received an answer of complete astonishment. Nobody 
there knew of my sudden withdrawal. The mob started 
along the road to Krasnoye Selo and soon overtook 
my supply wagons, which were in charge of old soldiers. 
These said that they had received orders to leave for 
Krasnoye, and that they knew nothing of the movements 
of the Battalion. The mob decided that we were on the 
same road and sent a couple of horsemen to overtake 
us. The horsemen, of course, returned empty-handed. 

"She is a witch ! " many soldiers shook their heads 
with superstitious awe. 

" A witch, undoubtedly ! " was repeated in tones of 
uneasiness by others. 

The four men with our flag lost their way in the woods, 
and seeing that they did not arrive, I sent out about 
twenty girls and instructors to look for them. They 
were finally discovered. Next we had to get in touch 
with the supply wagons, and managed to bring them 
to our camp. Once this was accomplished we were 
fairly well established behind the protection of the 
thickets. There was only one question confronting us : 
How to get away in safety. 

Molodechno was not to be thought of. Krasnoye Selo 

s 



ls| 



258 YASHKA 

was also a dangerous place, as our pursuers liatl Avarued 
the garrison there of our approach and had requested 
that we should be dealt with summarily. The prospects 
were far from cheerful. I decided to get into secret 
communication with the Commandant through the 
instructors. 

We camped in the forest for a couple of days, till the 
Commandant found an opportunity to slip out and 
come to see us. We held a conference for the purpose of 
finding a way out of the dilemma. 

It was agreed that the career of the Battalion was 
ended and that nothing remained but to disband it. 
The problem was, how ? The Commandant suggeste 
that he should procure women's garments for the girlsi 
and let them return home. 

The plan did not strike me as practical. It was 
hardly possible to obtain nearly two hundred cos- 
tumes for us in a day or two. It might, therefore, take a 
couple of weeks to disband the Battalion, which would 
not be advisable. I proposed a different scheme, 
namely, to discharge the girls singly and dispatch them 
to a score of scattered stations and villages. This plan 
was adopted, as it did not seem difficult for individual 
members of the Battalion to board trains or obtain 
vehicles in the neighbouring villages and get away. 

It took a day or so for the Commandant to get ready j 
the necessary documents and funds for all the girls.?. 
Then the disbanding began. Every ten or fifteen^, 
minutes a girl was sent away, now in one direction, now 
in the opposite. It was a pitiful finale to an heroic 
chapter in the history of Russian womanhood. The 
Battalion had struggled gallantly to stem the tide of 
destruction and ignorance. But the tide was too strong. 
It had swamped all that was good and noble in Russia, 
Russia berself seemed wrecked for ever in that maelstrom 



THE TRIUMPH OF BOLSHEVISM 259 

of unbridled passions. One did not want to live. There 
remained only the glory and satisfaction of sharing the 
overthrow of all that had been honourable in the country. 
Everything seemed upside down. There was no friend- 
ship, only hatred. The unselfishness of the days when 
Tsarism was overthrown, now, after the fall of Kerensky, 
had given place to a wave of greed and revenge. Every 
soldier, every peasant and workman, saw red. They 
all hunted phantom bourgeoisie, bloodsuckers, exploiters. 
When freedom was first born there was universal brother- 
hood and joy. Now intolerance and petty covetousness 
reigned supreme. 

As I kissed my girls good-bye and we exchanged 
blessings, my heart quivered with emotion. What had 
I not hoped from this Battalion ! But as I searched my 
soul I could find little to regret. I had done my duty by 
my country. Perhaps I had been too rash when I had 
imagined that this handful of women could save the 
army from ruin. And yet I was not alone in that 
expectation. There was a time when even Rodzianko 
believed as I did, and Brusilov and Kerensky had 
thought that the self-sacrifice of the women would shame 
the men. But the men knew no shame. 

My girls had departed. Of the whole Battalion there 
remained only myself and a few of the instructors. In 
the evening I made my way to the road where a motor- 
car was waiting to smuggle me away. The Commandant 
had arranged for me to go to Petrograd under the 
personal escort of two members of the Army Committee. 
They were to join me at the train. The peril lay in the 
journey to the station. Hidden at the bottom of the 
car, I was driven to the railway, where the two men took 
me under their protection. I had decided to go home, 
to the village of Tutalsk, near Tomsk, where my people 
had moved during the war. 



CHAPTER XVII 

FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 

PETROGRAD seemed populated by Red Guards.J 
One could not make a step without encountering 
one. They kept a strict watch over the station and a 
the incoming and outgoing trains. My escorts lefi 
me on the station platform, as they were to return t 
the front immediately. 

I had hardly emerged from the station, intending to 
look for a cabman, when a Red Guard Commissary, 
accompanied by a private with a naked sword, stopped 
me with the polite query : 

" Madame Botchkareva ? " 

" Yes." 

" Will you come with me, please ? " he suggested. 

" Where ? " I asked. 

" To the Smolny Institute." 

" But why ? " 

" Because I have orders to detain all officers returning 
from the front," he replied. 

" But I am only going home ! " I tried to argue. 

" Yes, I understand. But as an officer you will 
also understand that I must obey orders. They will 
probably release you." 

He hailed a cabman and we drove to the Smolny 
Institute, the seat of the Bolshevik Government. It 
impress^ed me as a strongly garrisoned fortress. Ther^ 

260 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 261 

were armed sentries everywhere. Accompanied by 
Red Guards I was led inside. There were Guards at 
every desk. I was taken before a sailor. He was very 
rough and brusque. 

" Where are you going ? " he demanded curtly. 
v"I am going home, to a village near Tomsk," I replied. 

Then why are you armed ? " he sneered. 

" Because I am an officer, and this is my uniform," I 
answered. 

He blazed up. 

" An officer, eh ? You will be an officer no more. 
Give me that pistol and sword ! " he ordered. 

The arms were those given to me at the consecration 
of the flag of the Battalion. I prized them too much to 
hand them over to this rogue of a sailor, and I refused 
to comply with his demand. He grew furious. It 
would have been useless to resist as the room was full 
of Red Guards. I declared that if he wanted my arms 
he could take them, but I would never surrender them 
myself. 

He violently tore the pistol and sword from me and 
pronounced me under arrest. There was a dark cellar 
in the Institute which was used as a place of detention, 
and I was sent down there and locked up. I was hungry, 
but received no answer to all my calls, and remained in 
the hole till the following morning. As soon as I was 
brought upstairs I began to demand my arms. The 
various officials, however, remained deaf to my 
pleas. 

I was informed that I should be taken before Lenin 
and Trotzky, and was soon led into a large, light room 
where two men of contrasting appearance were seated, 
apparently expecting my entrance. One had atypical 
Russian face. The other looked Jewish. The first was 
Nikolai Lenin, the second Leon Trotzky. Both arose 



262 YASHKA 

as I stepped in and walked toward me a few steps, stretch- 
ing out their hands and greeting me courteously. 

Lenin apologized for my arrest, explaining that he 
had learned of it only that morning. Inviting me to a 
seat, the two Bolshevik chiefs complimented me upon 
my record of service and courage, and began to sketcli 
to me the era of happiness that they intended to procure 
for Russia. They talked simply, smoothly and very 
beautifully. It was for the common people, the toiling 
masses, the disinherited that they were fighting. They 
wanted justice for all. Wasn't I of the working class 
myself ? Yes, I was. Wouldn't I join them and co- 
operate with their party in bringing happiness to the 
oppressed peasant and workman ? They wanted peasant 
women like myself : they had the highest esteem for them. 

" You will bring Russia not to happiness but to ruin," 
I said. 

" Why ? " they asked. " We seek only what is good 
and right. The people are with us. You saw for 
yourself that the army is behind us.", 

" I will tell you why," I replied. " I have no objection 
to your beautiful plans for the future of Russia. But 
as for the immediate situation, if you take the soldiers 
away from the front, you are destroying the country." 

" But we do not want any more war. We are going 
to conclude peace," the two leaders replied. 

" How can you conclude peace without soldiers at 
the front ? You are demobilizing the army already. ■ 
You have got to make peace first and then let the men 
go home. I myself want peace, but if I were in the 
trenches I would never leave before peace had been 
signed. What you are doing will ruin Russia." 

" We are sending the soldiers away because the 
Germans will not advance against us, anyhow. They 
do not want to fight either," was the reply. 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 263 

It irritated me, this view of the Germans held by the 
men who now controlled the Government of my country. 

" You don't know the Germans ! " I cried out. " We 
have lost so many lives in this war, and now you would 
give everything away without a struggle ! You don't 
know war ! Take the soldiers away from the front and 
the Germans will come and seize upon everything they 
can lay hands on. This is war. I am a soldier and I 
know. But you don't. Why did you take it upon 
yourselves to rule the country ? You will ruin it ! " 
I exclaimed in anguish. 

' Lenin and Trotzky laughed. I could see the irony in 
their eyes. They were learned and worldly. They had 
written books and travelled in foreign lands. And who 
was I ? An illiterate Russian peasant woman. My 
lecture undoubtedly afforded them amusement. They 
smiled condescendingly at my suggestion that they did 
not know what war was in reality. 

I rejected their proposal to co-operate with them and 
asked if I were free to leave. One of them rang a bell 
and a Red Guard entered. He was requested to accom- 
pany me out of the room and to provide me with a pass- 
port and a free ticket to Tomsk. Before leaving I asked 
for my arms, but was refused. I explained that they 
were partly of gold and given to me on an occasion that 
rendered them almost priceless to me. They answered 
that I would receive them back as soon as order was 
restored. Of course, I never got them back. 

I left the room without saying good-bye. In the next 
room I was given a passport, and proceeded by tramcar 
to the station. I decided not to linger in Petrograd and 
to depart without even seeing any of my friends. On 
the way I was recognized everywhere, but was allowed to 
proceed unmolested. The same evening I boarded 
one of the three cars attached to a train that went to 



2G.j, YASHKA 

Irkutsk by way of Vologda and Tcheliabinsk. I was 
going home. With me I had some two thousand roubles 
(about £211 25. Sd.), saved during my command of the 
BattaUon, when I had received a salary of four hundred 
roubles (about £42 45. 5d.) a month. 

The train was overcrowded with returning soldiers, 
almost all ardent Bolsheviks. I remained in the com- 
partment for eight days, leaving it only occasionally at 
night. I sent out a companion passenger to buy food 
for me at the stations. As we neared Tcheliabinsk, at 
the end of the eight days, the crowd had diminished in 
number, and I thought I might safely go out on to the 
gangway and get off at the great station for a little walk. 
No sooner did I appear on the gangway than I was 
recognized by some soldiers. 

" Oh, look who is here ! " one exclaimed. 

" It's Botchkareva ! The harlot ! " a couple of others 
echoed. 

" She ought to be killed ! " shouted somebody. 

" Why ? " I turned on them. " What harm have 1 
done to you ? Oh, you fools, fools ! " 

The train slowed down, approaching the station. I 
had scarcely turned my head away from the insolc]it 
fellows, when I was suddenly lifted by two pairs of arms, 
swung to and fro once, twice, three times, and thrown off 
the moving train. 

Fortunately the momentum of the swinging was so 
great that I was thrown across the parallel tracks and 
landed in a bank of snow piled along the railway. It was 
the end of November, 1917. It was all so sudden th;: t 
the laughter of the brutes behind me still rang in iny 
ears as I became conscious of pain in my right knee 

The train was halted before pulling into the station. 
In a few moments a big crowd collected round me. 
composed of passengers, railway officials and others. 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 265 

All were indignant at the brutality of the soldiers. The 
Commandant of the station and members of the local 
committee hurried to the spot. I was placed on a 
stretcher and taken to the hospital. It was found that 
I had a dislocated knee, and my leg was bandaged. I 
then declared that I desired to continue the journey, 
and I was given a berth in a hospital coach attached to 
a train going east. There were attendants and a medical 
assistant on the car. 

My injured leg grew more and more painful as I pro- 
ceeded homeward. It began to swell, and the medical 
assistant telegraphed to the stationmaster of Tutalsk, 
the village in which my family now lived, to provide a 
stretcher for me. 

My sister, Arina, was employed at the station as 
attendant at the tea-urn, which is always kept boiling at 
Russian railway stations. It was this employment of 
hers that had caused the family to move to Tutalsk from 
Tomsk, where they had no means of livehhood whatever. 
When the message from the doctor in charge of the car 
reached my sister and through her my parents, there was 
an outburst of grief. It was three years since they 
had seen their Marusia and now she was apparently being 
brought to them on her death-bed ! 

On the fourth day of the journey from Tcheliabinsk the 
train stopped at Tutalsk. My leg was badly swollen and 
was as heavy as a log. The pains were agonizing. My 
face was deadly pale. 

A stretcher was prepared for me at the station. My 
sisters, my mother and father and the stationmaster were 
at the door of the coach when I was carried out. My 
mother shrieked in heartrending tones, " My Marusia ! 
My Manka ! " stretched her hands toward heaven and 
threw herself full length on me, mourning over me as if I 
were ready for burial. 



266 YASHKA 

Her prodigal daughter had returned, my mother 
sobbed, but in what a condition ! She thought that I 
must have been wounded and have asked to be sent home 
to die. I could not speak, I could only grasp her bony 
arms, as my throat was choked with a tempest of tears 
and sobs. Everybody was crying, my sisters calling me 
by caressing names, my father standing over me bent 
and white, and even the strange stationmaster. . . . 

I became hysterical and the doctor was sent for. He 
had me removed home immediately, promising in re- 
sponse to my mother's entreaties to do everything in his 
power for me. I was ill for a month, passing Christmas 
and meeting the New Year, 1918, in bed. 

The two thousand roubles I had saved I gave to my 
parents. But this sum, which would have been reckoned 
a fortune before the war, was barely sufficient to keep us 
for a few months. It cost nearly a hundred roubles 
(about £10 11*.) to buy a pair of shoes for my 
youngest sister, Nadia, who was going about bare-foot ! 
It cost almost twice as much to buy her a second-hand 
jacket at the Tomsk market. Manufactured goods sold 
at a premium when they were to be had, but it was 
much more difficult to find what one needed than to pay 
an exorbitant price for it. There was plenty of flour in 
the country. But the peasants would not sell it cheaply 
because they could get nothing in town for less than 
fifty or a hundred times its former price. The result 
was that flour sold at sixty roubles (about £6 6*. Sd.) 
a pud (32 pounds) ! It may be imagined how far two 
thousand roubles would carry one in Russia. 

Tutalsk had also been swept by the hurricane of Bol- 
shevism. There were many soldiers who had returned 
from the front imbued with Bolshevik teachings. Just 
before my arrival the newly-fledged heretics even burned 
the village church, to the great horror of the older inhabi- 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 267 

tants. It was not an unusual case ; it was typical of 
the time. Hundreds of thousands of deluded young 
men had returned from the trenches with the passion 
to destroy, to tear down everything that had existed 
before : the old system of Government, the church, 
nay, God Himself — all in preparation for the new order 
of life they were going to establish. 

But one institution — the scourge of the nation — ^they 
failed to wipe out. Nay more, they restored it. The 
Tsar had abolished vodka. The prohibition was con- 
tinued in force by the new regime, but only on paper. 
Nearly every returned soldier took to distilling vodka at 
home, and the old plague of the country recovered 
its power and took its part in the building of the Bol- 
sheviks' new world. 

Every town and village had its committee or Soviet. 
They were supposed to carry out orders from the Central 
Government. An order was issued to confiscate all 
articles of gold and silver. Committees searched every 
house for such belongings. There was, also, or was 
supposed to be, an order taxing furniture and clothes. 
When the taxes arbitrarily demanded were not paid, the 
furniture and clothes were taken away. 

In the towns it was the townsmen who suffered, in the 
villages the peasants, all under the pretext of confiscating 
the riches of the bourgeoisie. It was sufficient for a 
peasant to buy a new overcoat, perhaps with his last 
savings, for him to be branded as an exploiter and lose 
his precious garment. The peculiar thing about such 
cases was the fact that the confiscated article would 
almost invariably appear on the back of one of the 
Bolshevik ringleaders. It was merely looting, and the 
methods were pure terrorism, practised mostly by the 
returned soldiers. 

I received some letters at Tutalsk. One was from my 



2G8 YASHKA 

adjutant, Princess Tatuyeva, who had arrived safely in 
Tiflis, her native town. 

One morning I went to the post office to ask for letters. 

" There goes Botchkareva ! " I heard a man cry out. 

" Ah, Botchkareva ! She is for the old regime ! " 
another fellow replied, apparently one of the Bolshevik 
soldiers. 

There were several of them and they shouted threats 
and insults at me. I did not reply but returned home 
with a heavy heart. Even in my own home I was not 
safe. 

" My God," I prayed, " what has come over the 
Russian people ? Is this my reward for the sacrifices I 
have made for my country ? " 

I resolved not to leave the house again. Surely this 
madness would not last long, I thought. I spent most of 
the day reading the Bible and praying to Heaven for 
the awakening and enlightenment of my people. 

On the 7th of January, 1918, I received a telegram 
from Petrograd, signed by General X< It read : 

" Come. You are needed." 

The same day I bought a ticket for the capital, bade 
farewell to my family, and set out. I removed the 
epaulets from my uniform, thus appearing in the garb of 
a private. 

About this time the Germans, to the profound shock 
of the revolutionary masses, began their sudden advance 
into Russia. It had an almost miraculous effect on 
the Bolshevik sympathizers. The train was as usual 
packed with soldiers, but there was a noticeable difference 
in their expression and conversation. All the brag- 
gadocio had been knocked out of them by the enemy's 
action. They had been lulled into the sweet belief that 
peace had come and that a golden age was about to open 
for them. • They could not reconcile that with the swift 



FACIN i LENIN AND TROTZKY 269 

advance of the Kaiser's soldiers toward Petrograd and 
Moscow. 

It was refreshing, exhilarating to listen to some of the 
men. 

" We have been sold ! " one heard here and there. 

" We were told that the German soldiers would not 
advance if we left the front," was another frequent 
expression. 

"It is not the common people, it is the German 
bourgeoisie that is fighting us now," was an argument 
ordinarily given in answer to the first opinions," and 
there is nothing to be afraid of. There will soon be a 
revolution in Germany." 

" Who knows," some would doubtfully remark, " that 
Lenin and Trotzky have not delivered us into the hands 
of the accursed Germans ? " 

There were always delegates from local committees 
going somewhere, and they talked to the soldiers, answer- 
ing questions and explaining things. They could not 
very well explain away the German treachery, but they 
held out the promise of a revolution in Germany almost 
any day. The men listened but were not greatly 
impressed by the assurances of the agitators. One felt 
that they were still groping in the dark, although the fight 
was dawning on their minds. The awakening could not 
be long postponed. 

I had a safe and comfortable journey to Petrograd. 
Nobody molested me, nobody threatened my life. I 
arrived at the capital on the 18th of January. The 
station was not as strongly guarded as two months before. 
Red Guards were not in such evidence in the streets, 
which appeared more normal. I went to one of my 
former patronesses and learned of the terror in which 
the capital lived. 

The following day I called on General X, who greeted 



270 YASHKA 

me cordially. Kiev, he told me, had just been captured 
by the Germans. They were threatening Petrograd, and 
the opposition of the Red Guards would not prevent or 
even postpone its capture by one day if the Germans were 
bent upon taking the city. 

Red Terror was rampant in Petrograd. The river was 
full of corpses of officers who had been slain and lynched. 
Those who were alive were leading a wretched existence 
fearing to show themselves in public because of the 
temper of the mob, and therefore on the verge of death 
from starvation. Even more harrowing was the situa- 
tion of the country. It was falling into the hands of the 
enemy so rapidly that immediate action of some sort was 
imperative. 

A secret meeting of officers and sympathizers had been 
held at which it was decided to get in touch with General 
Kornilov, who was reported as operating in the Don 
region. There were so many conflicting reports con- 
cerning Kornilov that it had been suggested that a 
courier should be sent to him to find out definitely his 
plans and his resources. After an exhaustive discussion 
General X suggested that I, as a woman, was the only 
person who could possibly get through the Bolshevik 
lines and reach Kornilov. Would I go ? 

" I would not join the officers here or Kornilov in the 
South for the purpose of waging war against my own 
people," I replied. " I can't do it because every Russian 
is dear to my heart, whether he be a Bolshevik, a Men- 
she vik, or a Red Guard. But I will undertake to go to 
Kornilov, in order to satisfy your, as well as my own, 
desire for information." 

It was agreed that I should dress as a Sister of Mercy. 
A costume was obtained for me, and I put it on over 
my uniform. My soldier's cap I tucked away in a pocket 
and donned the ordinary head-gear of a Sister of Mercy, 



;i 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 271 

which left visible only my eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks, 
and made me look like a matron of about forty-five. 

A passport was furnished to me, bearing the name of 
Alexandra Leontievna Smirnova, which was to be my 
name on the journey. As I wore army boots there was 
no danger of my trousers showing under the skirt. I 
took with me a letter from Princess Tatuyeva, in which 
she invited me to visit her in her home in the Caucasus. 
A ticket from Petrograd to Kislovodsk, a Caucasian 
health resort within several hundred miles of the place 
where Kornilov was stationed, was given me, to be used 
only in an emergency. It was agreed that in case of 
danger I should discard my garb of a Sister of Mercy, and 
disclose my identity, supported by the evidence of the 
emergency ticket to Kislovodsk and the letter from 
Princess Tatuieva, declare that I was on my way to take 
a cure at that place. In addition, I was, of course, 
provided with money for expenses. 

It was very amusing to lose one's identity and appear 
as a complete stranger. I was no longer Maria Botch- 
kareva, but Alexandra Smirnova. And as I glanced at 
myself in thd mirror it seemed even to my own eyes that 
I had been reincarnated from a soldier into a Sister of 
Mercy. 

When I started from Petrograd my destination was 
Nikitino, a station which one would ordinarily pass on 
the way to Kislovodsk. Nobody recognized me on the 
train. Sometimes a soldier asked : 

" Where are you going, little sister ? " 

"Home, to Kislovodsk," was my usual answer. 

The next question would be about the service I had 
seen at the front, and the sectors at which I worked. I 
would reply with facts from my actual experience as a 
soldier. There was nothing strange about a Sister of 
Mercy returning home, and as I preferred silence and 



272 YASHKA 

solitude to conversation, I reached Nikitino, at the end 
of several days, without any trouble. 

From Nikitino all trains were by order of the authori- 
ties switched off to other lines and sent to their destination 
by roundabout routes. The road running directly south 
from Nikitino was used for military purposes exclusively 
by the Bolshevik forces engaged in fighting Kornilov. 
Twenty miles farther on, at Zverevo, the so-called front 
began. Private passengers were therefore not allowed 
to go to Zverevo. 

It was evident that vast preparations were being made 
for a campaign against General Kornilov. There were i 
many ammunition trains and large numbers of men -'n 
concentrated there waiting transportation. There was '* 
apparently no lack of money, and there was iron discipline, 
reminding one of the early days of the war. There was 
order everywhere. j 

The first problem confronting me was how to get to | 
Zverevo. I went to the Commandant of the station, 
complained that I was penniless, that I could not wait 
indefinitely for the end of the fighting to return home to 
Kislovodsk, and urgently begged him to advise me what .;, 
to do. I made such an appeal to him that he finally {;; 
said : |^ 

" A munition train is just about to leave for Zverevo. |. 
Come, get into it and go to Zverevo. Perhaps they will t 
pass you through the lines at the front. There is a^ 
second-class carriage attached to the train." 

He led me to the carriage, in which were only the* 
five soldiers who were in charge of the train. Hej 
introduced me to the chief of them as a stranded Sister] 
of Mercy and asked for their indulgence. I thanked tl 
obliging Commandant profusely and from the bottom 
my heart. 

The train moved out of the station, but although^ 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 273 

i satisfied with the first stage of my enterprise, I was by 
no means cheerful as to my prospects m Zverevo, the 
i Bolshevik war zone. The head of the party sat down 
I opposite me. He was a dirty, ugly moujik. I did not 
I encourage him to engage me in conversation, but he 
1 was evidently wholly insensible to my feelings in the 
,: matter. 

I After the preliminary questions, he expressed his 
;: surprise that I should have chosen such an inopportune 
(moment to go to Kislovodsk. 

\^ " But my mother is ill there," I lied, " perhaps she is 
jjj (lying now. It broke her heart when I went to the 
i;l front." 

i " Ah, that's different," he declared, moving over to 
|iuy side. "They will pass you in that dase." 

From an expression of sympathy he had no hesitation 
in proceeding to an attempt at flirtation. He moved 
closer to me and even touched my arm. It was a deli- 
cate situation. I could not well afford to provoke his 
antagonism, so I warded off his advances with a smile 
and a coquettish glance. He treated me to a good meal, 
during which the conversation turned to general condi- 
itions. He was, of course, a rabid Bolshevik and a savage 

I opponent of Kornilov and all officers. My part in the 
conversation was confined to brief expressions of 
acquiescence, till suddenly he asked : 

"Have you heard of the Women's Battalion of 
Death ? " 
My heart thumped violently. 

" What Battalion did you say ? " I asked with an air of 
Ignorance. 

" Why, Botchkareva's Battalion ! " he replied in a 
cud voice. 
" Botchkareva's ? " I asked reminiscently. " Oh, yes, 
otchkareva; yes, I have heard about her." 

T 



274 YASHKA J 

" The ! She is a Kornilovka ! " he exclaimed. 

" She is for the old regime." 

" How do you know ? " I asked. " I thought she wiis 
non-partisan." 

" We know them all, the counter-revolutionists ! She 
is one of them," my companion declared emphatically. 

"Well, but the Battalion of Death no longer exists, 
and Botchkareva has apparently vanished," I suggested. 

" Yes, we know how they vanish. Many of them have 
vanished like that. Kornilov had vanished, too. Then 
they all pop up again somewhere or other and cause 
trouble," he declared. 

" Now, what would you do to her if she were to pop uj 
here ? " I ventured to inquire. 

" Kill her. She would never get away alive, you ma] 
stake an oath on that," he assured me. "We have the 
photographs of all the leading counter-revolutionaries,^ 
so that they can't conceal their identity if they are,v] 
caught." 

The conversation then took a more profitable turn for| 
me. I learned all about the plans of the Bolshevik forcej 
against Kornilov. The arrival of the train at Zverevo| 
put an end to my association with my travelling com^ 
panion. I thanked him warmly for all his kindness 
me. 

" You know. Sister," he unexpectedly declared befor^ 
parting, " I like you. Will you marry me ? " 

I was not prepared for this. It rather took me abaci 
He was such a dirty, repulsive-looking creature, and 
proposal was so ludicrous that it was with diffici 
that I controlled my desire to laugh. The situation wf 
not one for merriment. 

" Yes, with pleasure," I responded to his offer, with 
much graciousness as I could command, " but after 
have seen my mother." 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 275 

He gave me his address and asked me to write to him, 
which I promised to do. Perhaps he is still waiting for 
a letter from me. 

I left him at the train and went toward the station. 
There were Red Guards, sailors, soldiers, even Cossacks, 
who had joined the Bolsheviks, on the platform and inside 
the station. But there were no private citizens in sight. 
I sat down in a corner and waited. I was taken for a 
nurse attached to the Bolshevik army, and was not 
molested. One, two, three hours passed and still I 
could find no opportunity to proceed to my destination. 
A civilian, who somehow found his way into the station, 
was placed under arrest before my eyes without any 
preliminaries. I, therefore, preferred to sit quietly in 
my corner rather than move about. 

Finally a pleasant looking young soldier became 
interested in me. He walked up and asked : 

" Why are you waiting here. Sister ? " 

" I am waiting for a comrade," I answered. 

" What is his name ? " he inquired, interested. 

" Oh, that is a secret," I replied in a teasing manner. 

He sat down near me, and asked me if I had worked 
at the front. I said that unfortunately I had been 
detailed only to hospitals in the rear. 

" Why was that man arrested ? " I ventured to 
ask. 

" Because he had no papers from the Soviet," was the 
reply. " He will be shot immediately." 

" Do you execute everybody who has no papers ? " I 
asked. 

" Everybody, without distinction." 

" Even women ? " I inquired. 

" Yes, even women," was the reply. " This is a war 
zone." 

" Holy Mother ! " I exclaimed in horror. " How 



276 YASHKA 

terrible ! You really slay them all ? Without even a 
trial ? " 

" There is little time for trials here. Once fallen here, 
there is no escape. Our firing squads make an end of all 
suspected persons on the spot," he informed me kindly. 
" Come, would you like to see the execution-grounds ? 
They are quite near here." 

I followed him reluctantly. A few hundred feet away 
from the station we stopped. I could go no further. 
The field in front of us was covered with scores of 
mangled, naked corpses. It made my flesh creep. 

" There are about two hundred of them here, mostly 
officers who had joined or sought to join Kornilov," he 
explained. 

I could not help shivering. The dreadful scene nearly 
shattered my nerves and it was all I could do not to 
collapse. 

" Ah, you women, women," my escort nodded sym- 
pathetically. " You are all weak. You don't know 
what war is. Still," he admitted, " there are some who 
can compare with men. Take Botchkareva, for instance, 
she would not shudder at sights like this." 

" Who is she, this Botchkareva ? " I was curious. ^ 

" Haven't you heard of her ? " he asked in surprise. 
" Why, she was a soldier of the old regime and organized 
the Women's Battalion of Death. She is for Kornilov 
and the bourgeoisie. They gave her an officer's rank 
and bought her over to their side, although she is of;^ 
peasant blood." 

It was all very interesting, this theory of my corruption. J 
I had heard it before, but not stated in such definite! 
terms. At the same time I was haunted by the picture! 
of those mangled bodies, and the thought rankled in my 
mind of the treacherous Bolsheviks who had opposed 
capital punishment in the war against Germany but 



FACING LENIN AND TROTZKY 277 

introduced it in the most brutal fashion in the war 
against their own brothers. 

I then told my friend of the trouble in which I found 
myself, that I was penniless, that I had to get home to 
Kislovodsk and that I did not know how to get through 
the front. He explained to me that the so-called front 
was not a continuous line but a series of posts, main- 
tained on this side by the Bolsheviks and on the opposite 
side by Kornilov. 

" Sometimes," he added, " the peasants of the neigh- 
bouring villages are allowed by both sides to pass through 
to Novotcherkask, Kornilov's headquarters. If you 
follow that road," and he pointed to it, " you will ccme 
to a village about three miles from here. One of the 
peasants may be willing to convey you across." 

I thanked him for the valuable information, and we 
parted friends. The walk to the village was uneventful. 
On the outskirts of it I saw an old moujik working outside 
of his hut. There was a stable and horses attached 
to it. 

" Good day, grandfather ! " I greeted the old man. 

" Good day, little sister," he answered. 

" Would you drive me to the city ? " I asked. 

" Great God ! How is it possible ? The Bolsheviks 
are fighting in front of the city, and they don't let 
anybody pass," he said. 

" But people do go sometimes, don't they ? " 

"Yes, sometimes they do." 

"Well, I will give you fifty roubles for driving me to 
the city," I offered. 

The moujik scratched his neck, reconsidering the 
matter. 

" But aren't you a political ? " he inquired cautiously. 

" No," I assured him, " I am not." 

He went into the cabin to talk it over with his baba. 



278 YASHKA 

It was a tempting offer and her consent was apparently \ 
quickly obtained, for he soon returned and said : 

" All right, we will go. Come into the house. We will 
have tea and something to eat." 

The invitation was welcome indeed, as I had grown • 
hungry during my long wait at the station and the walk ' 
to the village. When we had finished our tea and lunch 
and the peasant harnessed his horse, I asked for a large 
apron, which I put on over my clothes. I then asked 
for the hobo's winter shawl and Wrapped it over my head 
and shoulders, almost completely covering my face, so ' 
that I no longer looked like a Sister of Mercy, but one * 
of the local peasant-women. 

Praying to God to grant me a safe journey, I seated! 
myself in the cart. The horse started off along the road. 

The Bolshevik front was still ahead of me. But I 
was making progress. ... 



CHAPTER XVIII 

CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 

" "\T T'HAT shall I say to the sentries ? " themoujik 
VV asked me as we approached the front 
positions. 

" Tell them that you are carrying your sick hdba to a 
liospital in the city, as she is suffering from high fever," 
I answered, and I asked him to wrap me in the huge fur 
overcoat on which he was seated. I was warm enough 
without it, but I thought that it would raise my tem- 
perature even more, and I was not mistaken. Under 
all the wrappings I looked more like a heap than a 
Imman form. When we reached the outposts I began 
to moan as if in pain. 

" Where are you going ? " I heard a voice ask my 
driver sharply, as the horse stopped. 

" To a hospital in the city," was the answer. 

" What have you got there ? " the inquirer continued. 

"My haba. She is dying. I am taking her to a 
doctor," the peasant replied. 

Here I groaned louder than ever. I was suffocating. 
:\Iy heart was thumping with dread of a sudden exposure 
.ind discovery. Every particle of time seemed an age. 

The sentry who had stopped us apparently talked the 
matter over with some of his comrades, to the accompani- 
ment of my loud moans. Without uncovering my face 
he issued a pass to the moujik. 

279 



280 YASHKA 

My heart beat joyfully as the horse started off at 
a rapid pace. For a while I still held my breath, hardly 
daring to believe that I had left Bolshevik territory 
behind me with so Uttle difficulty. 

After some time we arrived at Komilov's front. 
The posts along it were held by officers, of whom his 
force was almost exclusively composed. At one such 
post we were stopped by an imperative " Halt ! " 

The driver was about to repeat the story of his sick 
baba when I surprised him by throwing off the fur coat, 
then the shawl, and jumping out of the vehicle, heaving 
a deep sigh of relief. I could not help laughing. 

The moujik must have thought me mad at first The 
officers at the post could not understand it either. 

" What the devil ! " a couple of them muttered under 
their breath. I proceeded very coolly to pay the fifty 
roubles to the peasant, and thereupon to dismiss him, to 
his great amazement. 

" I shall get to the city all right from here," I informed 
him. 

" The deuce you will ! " blurted out the officer in 
charge. "Who are you?" 

" Why, can't you see, I am a Sister of Mercy," 1 
answered impatiently. 

" Where are you going ? " 

" I am going to see General Kornilov," I said, laughing. 

The officers were getting furious. 

" You will not go a step further," the chief officer 
ordered. 

" Oh, yes, I will," I announced emphatically. 

" You are arrested I " was the reply. 

I burst out laughing, while the officers turned white 
with fury. 

" Don't you recognize me ? I am Botchkareva," and 
I threw off my head-dress of the Sister of Mercy, reveal- 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 281 

ing my own self. The officers gasped, and then imme- 
diately crowded round me congratulating me and shaking 
me by the hand. Kornilov was notified by telephone of 
my arrival and of the joke I had played on the sentries. 

" How do you do, little sister ? " he greeted me laugh- 
ingly when I was brought to his headquarters. The 
story of my arrival and of the way I had got through 
the lines amused him very much. He looked very thin 
and somewhat aged, but as energetic as ever. 

I reported to him that I was sent from Petrograd by 
General X and other officers, for the purpose of ascer- 
taining his plans and exact situation. I also informed 
him that the Bolsheviks were making big preparations for 
an attack against him, that I had seen eleven cars with 
ammunition at Zverevo, and that the blow was planned 
to take place in a couple of days. 

Kornilov replied that he knew of the impending offen- 
sive and that his condition was precarious. He had 
no money and no food, while the Bolsheviks were amply 
supplied with both. His soldiers were deserting him one 
by one. He was cut off from his friends and surrounded 
by enemies. 

" Was it your intention to remain with me and join 
my force ? " he asked me. 

"No," I said, "I could not fight against my own 
people. The Russian soldier is dear to me, although he 
has been led astray for the present." 

" It is also very hard for me to fight the men that I 
loved so much," he declared. " But they have turned 
beasts now. We are fighting for our lives, for our uni- 
forms. The life of every Russian officer is at the mercy 
of the mob. It is a question of organizing for self- 
defence. One cannot hope to do much for the country, 
if the Bolsheviks are waging civil war when the Germans 
are advancing into Russia. This is a time for peace and 



282 YASHKA 

union among all classes. It is a time for presenting a 
united front to the enemy of the Motherland. But 
Bolshevism has perverted the minds of the people. 
What is necessary, therefore, is to enlighten the masses. 
We can't hope to enlighten them by fighting. If it were 
possible to organize a counter-propaganda, to convince 
the Russian peasants that the Bolsheviks are rapidly 
driving our country to utter ruin, then they would rise 
and make an end of Lenin and Trotzky, elect a new 
Government, and drive the Germans out of Russia. 
This is the only solution that I can see, unless the Allies 
aid us in conciliating our soldiers and re-establishing a 
front against Germany." 

This, in substance, was Kornilov's view of conditions 
in Russia, when I saw him in February, 1918. I 
remained only one day at his headquarters. From 
conversations with the men attached to his Staff, I 
learned that Kornilov's force comprised only about three 
thousand men. The Bolshevik army opposing it was 
about twenty times its strength. I left JN^ovotcherkask 
in the evening, after an affectionate parting from 
Kornilov. He kissed me as he bade me farewell, and 
I wished him success for the sake of the country. But 
there was no success in prospect. We both knew it only 
too well. A heavy darkness had settled on Russia, 
stifling all that was still noble and righteous. 

Encouraged by my success in reaching Kornilov's 
line, I determined to. return by myself. I was taken to 
the outposts by a group of officers, and from there, 
accompanied by their blessings, I started out through the 
war zone alone. I crawled on all-fours as if through 
No Man's Land, and advanced a couple of versts without 
any mishap. The experience I had gained at the front 
stood me in good stead. I scented the approach of a 
patrol and, hid just in time to escape being observed. 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 283 

The patrol turned out to be one of Kornilov's force, 
but I remained hidden. After some more crawHng I 
caught the sound of voices coming from the direction of 
a coal-mine and judged the place to be one of the front 
positions. Exercising extreme caution, I managed to 
pass beyond it safely. Some distance away, dimly 
standing out against the horizon, was a wood. 

A Bolshevik force got wind of the patrol I had encoun- 
tered and went out to capture it by a flank operation. 
I decided to conceal myself behind a pile of coal and 
wait till quiet was restored. On my right and left were 
dumps of coal. 

Keeping close against the coal-heap, I breathlessly 
awaited the result of the enterprise. After a little while 
the Bolsheviks returned with the prey. They had 
captured the patrol ! There were twenty captives, 
fifteen officers and five cadets, I discovered. They 
were led to a place only about twenty feet distant from 
the coal-heap behind which I was concealed. 

The hundred Bolshevik soldiers surrounded the 
officers, cursed them, beat them with the butts of their 
rifles, tore off their epaulets and handled them in the 
most brutal fashion. The five youthful cadets must have 
suddenly seen an opportunity to escape, for they dashed 
off a few minutes afterwards. But they failed in their 
attempt. They were caught several hundred feet away 
and brought back. 

The Bolshevik soldiers then decided to gouge out the 
eyes of the five youths in punishment for their attempt 
to run away. Each of the victims was held by a couple 
of men in such a position as to allow the bloody torturers 
to do their frightful work. In all my experiences of 
horror this was the most horrible crime I witnessed. 

One of the officers could not contain himself and 
shrieked : 



284 YASHKA 

" Murderers ! Beasts ! Kill me ! " 

He was struck with a bayonet, but only wounded. AU 
the fifteen officers begged to be killed outright. But 
their request was refused. 

" You must be taken before the Staff first," was the 
answer. Soon they were led away. 

The five martyrs were left to expire in agony where 
they were. 

My heart was petrified. My blood congealed. I 
thought I was going mad, that in a second I should not 
be able to control myself and should jump out, inviting 
death or perhaps similar torture. 

I finally gathered strength to turn round and crawl 
away, in the opposite direction, toward the woods. At a 
distance of several hundred feet from the forest it seemed 
to me safe to rise and run for it. But somebody noticed 
me from the mine. 

" A spy ! " went up in a chorus from several throats, 
and a number of soldiers set off after me, shooting as they 
ran. 

Nearer and nearer the pursuers came. I raced faster 
than I ever did before in my life. Here, within another 
hundred feet or so, were the woods. There, I might 
still hope to hide. I prayed for strength to get there. 
Bullets whistled by me, but firijig as they ran the men 
could not take aim. 

The woods ! the woods ! It was the one thought that 
possessed my whole being. Louder and louder grew the 
shouts behind me : 

" A female-spy ! A female-spy ! " 

The woods were within my reach. Another bound, 
and I was in them. Onward I dashed like a wild deer. 
Was it because there were only a few soldiers left at the 
post and they could not desert it to engage in a hunt, 
or because" the men decided that I could not escape 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 285 

from the forest anyhow, that my pursuers did not follow 
me into the woods ? I know only that they were 
satisfied with sending a stream of bullets into the forest 
and then ceased to trouble about me. 

I concealed myself in a hollow till everything was quiet 
again. Then I got out and tried to work out the right 
direction, but I made a mistake at first and returned 
to the edge at which I had entered. I then walked to 
the opposite side, struck a path and before taking it, I 
threw off my costume of a Sister of Mercy and hid it, drew 
out my soldier's cap, destroyed the passport of Smirnova, 
and appeared again in my own uniform. I reaUzed that 
reports must have been sent out by my pursuers of a spy 
dressed as a nurse and determined that as Botchkareva 
I might still have a chance of life, but as Smirnova I 
was done for. 

Day was breaking, but it was still dark in the woods. 
I met a soldier, who greeted me. I answered grufiiy, and 
he passed on, evidently taking me for a comrade. A 
little later I encountered two or three other soldiers, but 
again passed them without being suspected. I pulled 
out my direct ticket to Kislovodsk and the letter from 
Princess Tatuyeva. These were my two trump-cards. 
After walking for about thirteen miles I came in view 
of the station at Zverevo. A decision had to be adopted 
without delay. I felt that loitering would be fatal, and 
so I made up my mind to go straight to the station, 
announce my identity, claim that I had lost my way 
and surrender myself. 

When I opened the door of the station, which was 
filled with Red Guards, and appeared on the thres- 
hold, the men gaped at me as if I were an appa- 
rition. 

" Botchkareva ! " they gasped. 

Without stopping to hear them I walked up to the first 



286 YASHKA 

soldier, with my legs trembling and my heart in my 
mouth, and said : 

" Where is the Commandant ? Take me to the Com- 
mandant ! " 

He looked at me with an ugly expression, but obeyed 
the order and led me to an office, also packed with Red 
Guards, where a youth of not more than nineteen or 
twenty was introduced to me as the head of the investiga- 
tion committee, who was acting as chief in the absence 
of the Commandant. Again everybody gave vent to 
exclamations of surprise at my unexpected appearance. 

" Are you Botchkareva ? " the young man inquired, 
showing me to a seat. I was pale, weak and travel-worn 
and I sank into the chair gratefully. Looking at the 
young man, hope kindled in my breast. He had a noble, 
winning face. 

" Yes, I am Botchkareva," I answered. " I am going 
to Kislovodsk, to cure my wound in the spine, and I 
have lost my way." 

"What were you thinking of? Are you in your 
senses ? We are just preparing for an offensive against 
Kornilov. How could you take this route at such a 
time ? Didn't you know that your appearance here 
would mean your certain death ? " the young man 
asked, greatly agitated over my fatal blunder. 

" Why," he continued, " I just had a telephone call 
telling that a woman-spy had crossed from Kornilov's 
side early this morning. They are looking for her now. 
You see the situation into which you have brought 
yourself ! " 

The youthful chief was apparently favourably inclined 
toward me. I decided to try to win him over com- 
pletely. 

" But I came of my own accord," I said, breaking 
into sobs. " I am innocent. I am just a sick woman, 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 287 

going to take a cure at the springs. Here is my ticket 
to Kislovodsk, and here is a letter from a friend of mine, 
my former adjutant, inviting me to come to the Caucasus. 
Surely you will not murder a poor, sick woman, if not for 
my own sake, at least for the sake of my wretched 
parents." 

Several of the Red Guards present cut short my 
entreaties with angry cries : 

" Kill her ! What is the use of letting her talk ! Kill 
her, and there will be one slut less in the world ! " 

" Now wait a minute ! " the Acting Commandant 
interrupted. " She has come to us of her own free will 
and is not one of the officers that are opposing us. There 
will be an investigation first and we will ascertain whether 
she is guilty or innocent. If she is guilty, we will shoot 
her." 

The words of the chief of the investigation committee 
gave me courage. He was evidently a humane and 
educated man. Subsequently I learned that he was a 
university student. His name was Ivan Ivanovitch 
Petrukhin. 

As he was still discoursing, a man dashed in like a 
whirlwind, puffing, perspiring, but rubbing his hands in 
satisfaction. 

" Ah, I have just finished a good job ! Fifteen of 
them, all officers ! The boys got them like that," and he 
bowed and made a sign across the legs. " The first 
volley peppered their legs and threw them in a heap 
on the ground. Then they were bayoneted and slashed 
to pieces. Ha, ha, ha ! There were five others captured 
with them, cadets. They tried to escape and the good 
fellows gouged their eyes out ! " 

I was petrified. The newcomer was of middle height, 
heavily built, and dressed in an officer's uniform but 
without the epaulets. He looked savage, and his hideous 



288 YASHKA 

laughter sent shudders up my spine. The bloodthirsty 
brute ! Even Petrukhin's face turned pale at his 
entrance. He was no less a person than the assistant to 
the Commander-in-Chief of the Bolshevik Army. His 
name was Pugatchov. 

He did not notice me at first, so absorbed was he in 
the story of the slaughter of the fifteen officers. 

" And here we have a celebrity," Petrukhin said, 
pointing at me. 

The Assistant Commander made a step forward in 
military fashion, stared at me for an instant and then 
cried out in a terrifying voice : 

" Botchkareva ! " 

He was beside himself with joy. 

" Ha, ha, ha ! " he laughed diabolically. " Under the 
old regime. I should have received an award of the first 
class for capturing such a spy ! I will run out and tell 
the soldiers and sailors the good news. They will know 
how to take care of her. Ha, ha, ha ! " 

I arose horror-stricken. I wanted to say something 
but was speechless. Petrukhin was greatly horrified too. 
He ran after Pugatchov, seized him by the arm, and 
shouted : 

" What is the matter, have you gone mad ? Madame 
Botchkareva came here of her own accord. , Nobody 
captured h^. She is going to Kislovodsk for a cure. 
She is a sick woman. She says that she lost her way. 
Anyhow, she has never fought against us. She returned 
home after we took over the power." 

" Ah, you don't know her I " exclaimed Pugatchov. 
" She is a Kornilovka, the right hand of Kornilov." 

" Well, we are not releasing her, are we ? " retorted 
Petrukhin. " I am going to call the committee together 
and have her story investigated." 

" An investigation ! " scoffed Pugatchov. " And if , 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 289 

you don't find any evidence against her, will you let 
her go ? You don't know her ! She is a dangerous 
character ! How could we afford to save her ? I 
wouldn't even waste bullets on her. I would call the 
men and they would make a fine gruel of her ! " 

He made a motion toward the door. Pctrukhin kept 
hold of him. 

" But consider, she is a sick woman ! " he pleaded. 
" What is the investigation committee for if not to 
investigate before punishing ? Let the committee look 
into the matter and take whatever action it considers 
best." 

At this point the Commandant of the station arrived. 
He supported Pctrukhin. " You can't act like that in 
such a case," he said, " this is clearly a matter for the 
investigation committee. If she is found guilty, we will 
execute her." 

Pctrukhin went to summon the members of the 
investigation committee, who were all, twelve in number, 
common soldiers. As soon as he told the news to each 
member, he told me later, the men became threatening, 
talking of the good fortune that brought me into their 
hands. But Pctrukhin argued with every one of them 
in my favour, as he was convinced of the genuineness of 
my plea. In such a manner he won some of them over 
to my side. 

Meanwhile Pugatchov paced the room like a caged 
lion, thirsting for my blood. 

" Ah, if I had only known it before, I would have had 
you shot in company with those fifteen officers ! " he 
said to me. 

" I should not have the heart to shoot at my own 
brothers, soldier or officer," I remarked. 

" Eh, you are canting already," he turned on me. 
*' We know your kind." 

u 



290 YASHKA 

" Taking you all in all," I declared, " you are no better 
than the officers of the old regime." 

" Silence ! " he commanded angrily. 

Petrukhin came in with the committee at that instant. 

" I must ask you not to make such an uproar," he said, 
turning to Pugatchov, feeling more confident with the 
committee at his back. " She is in our hands now, and 
we will do justice. It is for us to decide if she is guilty. 
Leave her alone." 

There were only ten members of the committee within 
reach. The other two members were absent and the ten, 
as they made a quorum, decided to go on with the 
work. 

" Whether you find her guilty or not, I will not let her 
get out of here alive ! " Pugatchov declared. " What 
am I ? " he added. " I am no enemy either." 

However, this threat worked in my favour, as it 
touched the committee's pride. They were not to be 
overridden like that. Pugatchov demanded that I 
should be searched. 

" I am at your disposal," I said, " but before you 
proceed further I want to hand over to you this package 
of money. There are ten thousand roubles in it, sent to 
me by Princess Tatuicva, my former adjutant, to enable 
me to take the cure at the springs. I kept this money 
intact, because I hoped to return it to her upon reaching 
the Caucasus," 

The money had in reality been given to me by Korni- 
lov, to secure my parents and myself from starvation in 
the future. 

The valuable package was taken away, without mueh 
questioning. I was then ordered to undress completely. 
Petrukhin protested against it, but Pugatchov insisted. 
The dispute was settled by a vote, the majority being for 
my undressing. 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 291 

The search was painstaking but fruitless. There was 
the ticket to Kislovodsk, the letter from Princess 
Tatuieva, a little bottle of holy water, given to me by 
my sister Nadia, and a scapular, presented to me before 
leaving for the front by one of the patronesses of the 
Battalion. 

" Ah, now we have got it ! " exclaimed Pugatchov, 
seizing the sacred bag. " There is the letter from 
Kornilov ! " 

The bag was ripped open and a scroll of paper was 
taken out on which a psalm had been written in a 
woman's hand. I declared that the sin of tearing it 
open would fall on their heads and that I would not 
sew it up again. One of the soldiers obtained a needle 
and thread and sewed up the bag again. 

The members of the committee apologized for having 
been obliged to have me searched in such a manner. 

" What shall you do with me now ? " I asked. 

" We shall have you shot ! " answered Pugatchov. 

" What for ? " I demanded in despair. 

The brute did not reply. He merely smiled. 

Petrukhin was afraid to defend me too warmly, lest he 
should be suspected of giving aid to a spy. He preferred 
to work indirectly for me, by influencing the members 
of the committee individually. It was decided, I believe, 
at the suggestion of Petrukhin, that the case should 
be submitted to the Commander-in-Chief, Sablin, for 
consideration and sentence. This was merely a device 
for preventing an immediate execution, but the feeling 
among the men was that my death was certain. Never- 
theless, I was deeply grateful to Petrukhin for his 
humane attitude. He was a man of rare qualities, and 
among Bolsheviks he was almost unique. 

I was ordered to a railway carriage used as a jail for 
captured officers and other prisoners. It was a death- 



292 YASHKA 

chamber. Nobody escaped from it alive. When I was 
led inside, there were exclamations : 

" Botchkareva ! How did you get here ? Coming 
from Kornilov ? " 

" No," I answered, " I was on my way to Kislo- 
vodsk." 

There were about forty men in the car, the greater 
part of them officers. Among the latter there were two 
Generals. They were all shocked at my appearance 
among them. When my escort had departed, the 
prisoners talked more freely. To some of them I even 
told the truth, that I had actually been to Kornilov. 
None of them gave me any hope. All were resigned to 
death. 

One of the Generals was an old man. He beckoned 
to me and I sat down beside him. 

" I have a daughter like you," he said sadly, putting 
his arm round my shoulders. " I had heard of your brave 
deeds and had come to love you like my own child. But 
I never expected to meet you here, in this death-trap. 
Is it not dreadful ? Here are we, all of us, the best men 
of the country, being executed, tormented, crushed by 
the savage mob. If it were only for the good of Russia ! 
But Russia is perishing at this very moment. Perhaps 
God will save you yet. Then you will avenge us. . . ." 

I broke down, convulsed with sobs, and leaned against 
the General's shoulder. The old warrior could not 
restrain himself either and wept with me. . . . 

The other officers suddenly sang out in a chorus. They 
sang from despair, in an effort to keep from collapsing. 

I cried long and bitterly. I prayed for my mother. 

" Who would support her ? " I appealed to Heaven. 
" She will be forced to go begging in her old age if I am 
killed." Life became very precious to me, the same 
life that I Jiad exposed to a hundred perils. I did not 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 293 

want to die an infamous death, to lie on the field iin- 
buried, food for carrion crows. 

" Why haven't you allowed me to die from an enemy's 
bullet ? " I asked of God. " How have I deserved being 
butchered by the hands of my own people ? " 

The door swung open. About forty soldiers filed in. 
Their leader had a list of names in his hand. 

" Botchkareva ! " he called out first. 

Somehow my heart leaped with joy. I thought that I 
was to be released. But the officers immediately dis- 
illusioned me with the statement that it was a call for 
execution. I stepped forward and answered : 

" I am here ! " 

" Take off your clothes ! " 

The order stupefied me. I remained motionless. 

Some soldiers came up, pushed me forward and re- 
peated the order several times. I awoke at last and 
began to undress. 

The old General's name was read off the list next. 
Then a number of other officers were called out. Every 
one of them was ordered to cast off the uniform and 
remain in his undergarments. 

The Bolsheviks needed all the uniforms they could 
get, and this was such an inexpensive way of obtaining 
them. 

. Tears streamed down my cheeks all the time. The 
old General was near me. 

" Don't cry ! " he urged me. " We will die together." 

Not all the prisoners were in our group. Those 
remaining kissed me farewell. The partings between the 
men were alone sufficient to rend one's heart. 

" Well, we shall follow you in an hour or two," those 
who were left behind said bravely. 

After I had taken off my boots, I removed the icon 
from my neck and fell before it on my knees. 



294 YASHKA 

" Why should I die such a death ? " I cried. " For 
three years I have suffered for my country. Is this 
shameful end to be my reward ? Have mercy. Holy 
Mother ! If not for the sake of humble Maria, then for 
the sake of my destitute old mother and my aged father ! 
Have mercy ! " 

Here I collapsed completely and became hysterical. 

After a few moments an officer approached me, put his 
hand on my shoulder, and said : 

"You are a Russian officer. We are dying for a 
righteous cause. Be strong and die as it befits an officer 
to die ! " 

I made a superhuman effort to control myself. The 
tears stopped. I arose and announced to the guards : 

" I am ready." 

We were led out from the car, all of us in our under- ^ 
garments. A few hundred feet away was the field of | 
slaughter. There were hundreds upon hundreds of -^ 
human bodies heaped there. As we approached the 
place, the figure of Pugatchov, marching about with a | 
triumphant face, came into sight. He was in charge 'I 
of the firing squad, composed of about one hundred men, 
some of whom were sailors, others soldiers, and others 
dressed as Red Guards. 

We were surrounded and taken toward a slight eleva- 
tion of ground, and placed in a line with our backs toward , 
the hill. There were corpses behind us, in front of us, j 
to our left, to our right, at our very feet. There were 
at least a thousand of them. The scene was a horror of 
horrors. We were suffocated by the poisonous stench. 
The executioners did not seem to mind it so much. : 
They were used to it. ^, 

I was placed at the extreme right of the line. Next ' : 
to me was the old General. There were twenty of us 
altogether. ; 



^ 



CAUGHT IN A BOLSHEVIK DEATH-TRAP 295 

" We are waiting for the committee," Pugatchov 
remarked, to explain the delay in the proceedings. 

" What a pleasure! " he rubbed his hands, laughing. 
" We have a woman to-day." 

" Oh, yes," he added, turning to us all, " you can write 
letters home and ask that your bodies be sent there for 
burial, if you wish. Or you can ask for similar favours." 

The suspense of waiting was as cruel as anything else 
about the place. Every officer's face wore an expression 
of implacable hatred for that brute of a man, Pugatchov. 
Never have I seen a more bloodthirsty scoundrel. I did 
not think that such a man was to be found in Russia. 

The waiting wore me out soon and I fell again on my 
knees, praying to the little icon, and crying to Heaven : 

" God, when have I sinned to earn such a death ? 
Why should I die like a dog, without burial, without a 
priest, with no funeral ? And who will take care of my 
mother ? She will expire when she learns of my end." 

The Bolshevik soldiers burst out laughing. My plead- 
ing appealed to their sense of humour. They joked and 
made merry. 

" Don't cry, my child," the General bent over me, 
pattmg me. " They are savages. Their hearts are of 
stone. They would not even let us receive the last 
sacrament. Let us die like heroes, nevertheless." 

His words gave me strength. I got up, stood erect 
and said : 

" Yes, I will die as a hero." 

Then, for about ten minutes I gazed at the faces of our 
executioners, scrutinizing their features. It was hard to 
distinguish in them signs of humanity. They were 
Russian soldiers turned inhuman. The lines in their 
faces were those of brutal apes. 

"My God ! What hast Thou done to Thy children ? ' ' 
I prayed. 



296 YASHKA 

All the events of niy life passed before me in a long 
procession. My childhood, those years of hard toil in 
the little grocer's shop of Nastasia Leontievna ; the affair 
with Lazov ; my marriage to Botchkarev ; Yasha ; the 
three years of war ; they all passed through my imagina- 
tion, some incidents strangely gripping my interest for a 
moment or two, others flitting by hastily. Somehow 
that episode of my early life, when I quarrelled with 
the little boy placed in my charge and the undeserved 
whipping I got from his mother stood out very promi- 
nently in my mind. It was my first act of self-assertion. 
I had rebelled and escaped. . . . Then there was thn,t 
jump into the Ob. It almost seemed that it was not I 
who sought relief in its cold, deep waters from the ugl\ 
Afanasi. But I wished that I had been drowned then, 
rather than die such a death. . . . 



CHAPTER XIX 

SAVED BY A MIRACLE 

THE investigation committee finally appeared in the 
distance. Petrukhin was leading it. There were 
all the twelve members present, the two absentees 
apparently having joined the other ten. 

"You see, how kind we are," some of the soldiers said. 
" We are having the committee present at your execu- 
tion." 

Not one of us answered. 

" We have all been to see Sablin, the Commander-in- 
Chief," Petrukhin announced as soon as he approached 
near enough to Pugatchov. "He said that Botchkareva 
would have to be shot, but not necessarily now and 
with this group." 

A ray of hope was kindled in my soul. 

" Nothing of the sort ! " Pugatchov bawled angrily. 
"What's the matter here? Why this delay? The 
list is already made up." 

The soldiers supported Pugatchov. 

" Shoot her ! Finish her now ! What's the use of 
bothering with her again ! " cried the men. 

But just as Pugatchov guessed that Petrukhin had 
obtained the delay in the hope of saving me, so the latter 
had realized that spoken words would not be sufficient 
to secure the fulfilment of his order. He had provided 
himself with a note from Sablin. 

" Here is an order from the Commander-in-Chief," 

297 



298 YASHKA 

Petrukhin declared, pulling out a paper. " It says that 
Botclikareva shall be taken to my compartment in the 
railway carriage and kept there under guard." 

Pugatchov jumped up as if he had been stung. But 
the committee now rallied to the support of Petrukhin, 
maintaining that orders were orders, and that I should be 
executed later. 

Not the least interested spectator of the heated discus- 
sion was myself. The officers followed the argument 
breathlessly, too. The soldiers grumbled. The forces 
of life and death struggled within me. Now the first 
would triumph, now the second, depending on the turn 
of the quarrel. 

" That won't do ! " shouted Pugatchov, thrusting aside 
the order of the Commander-in-Chief. " It's too late 
for orders like that. ^¥e will shoot her ! Enough of 
talking ! " 

At this moment I became aware that one of the two 
newly-arrived members of the committee was staring 
at me intently. He took a couple of steps toward me, 
bent his head sideways and fixed his eyes on me. There 
was something about that look that electrified me. As the 
man, who was a common soldier, craned his neck forward 
and stepped out of the group, a strange silence gripped 
everybody, so affected were all by the painful expression 
on his face. 

" A-r-e y-o-u Y-a-s-h-k-a ? " he sang out slowly. 

" How do you know me ? " I asked quickly, almost 
overpowered by a presentiment of salvation. 

" Don't you remember how you saved my life in that 
March offensive, when I was wounded in the leg and you 
dragged me out of the mud under fire ? My name is 
Peter. I should have perished there, in the water, and 
many others like me, if not for you. Why do they w^ant 
to shoot you now ? " 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 299 

" Because I am an officer," I repfied. 

" What conversations are you lioiding here?" Puga- 
tchov thundered. " She wiil have to be shot, and no 
arguments ! " 

"And I won't ailow her to be shot ! " my God-appointed 
saviour answered back firmly, and walked up to me, 
seized my arm, pulled me out of my place, occupying it 
himself. 

" You will shoot me first ! " he exclaimed. " She 
saved my life. She saved many of our lives. The entire 
Fifth Corps knows Yashka. She is a common peasant 
like myself, and understands no politics. If you shoot 
her, you will have to shoot me first ! " 

This speech put new life into me. It also touched the 
hearts of many in the crowd. 

Petrukhin went up, took a place beside Peter and 
myself, and declared : 

" You will shoot me, too, before you execute an 
innocent, suffering woman ! " 

The soldiers were now divided. Some shouted, " Let's 
shoot her and make an end of this squabble ! What's 
the use of arguments ? " 

Others were more human. " She is not of the 
bourgeoisie, but a common peasant like ourselves," they 
argued. " And she does not imderstand politics. Per- 
haps she really was going to seek a cure. She Was not 
captured, but came to us of her own accord, we must not 
forget that." 

For some time the place was transformed into a debat- 
ing-ground. ' It was a strange scene for a debate. There 
were the hundreds of bodies scattered round us. There 
were the twenty of us in our under-garments awaiting 
death. Of the twenty only I had a chance for life. The 
remaining nineteen held themselves stoically erect. No 
hope stirred within them. No miracle could save 



300 YASIIKA 

them. And amidst all this a hundred Russian soldiers, 
a quarter of an hour before all savages, now half of them 
with a spark of humanity in their breasts, were debating ! 

The members of the committee finally recovered tlieir 
wits and took charge of the situation. Turning to 
Pugatchov, they declared : 

" Now we have an order here from the Commander- 
in-Chief, and it shall be obeyed. We are going to take 
her away." 

They closed about me and I was marched out of the 
line and off the field. Pugatcliov was in a white rage, 
raving like a madman, grinding his teeth. As we walked 
away, his brutal voice roared : 

" Fire at the knees ! " 

A volley rang out. Immediately cries and groans filled 
the air. Turning my head, I saw the savages rush upon 
the heap of victims with their bayonets, digging themj 
deep into the bodies of my companions of a few minutesi 
before, and crushing the last signs of life out of them J 
with their heels. 

It was frightful, indescribably frightful. The moans, 
Vv'ere so penetrating, so blood-curdling that I staggered,'^ 
fell to the ground my full length, and swooned. 

For four hours I remained unconscious. When I came'; 
to, I was in a compartment of a railway coach. Petru- 
khin sat by me, holding my hand, and weeping. 

When I thought of the circumstances that had led to 
my fainting, the figure of Pugatchov swam up before^ 
my eyes, and I took an oath there and then to kill him 
at the first opportunity, if I escaped from the Bolshevik| 
trap. 

Petrukhin then told me that Peter had aroused sueKij 
compassion for me among the members of the Investiga-I 
tion Committee that they had agreed to go with him 
to Sablin, and petition the Commander-in-Chief to send 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 801 

me to Moscow for trial by a military tribunal. About 
fifty soldiers were also won over to my side by Peter's 
accounts of Yashka's work in the trenches and No Man's 
Land, and of my reputation among all the men. Petru- 
khin had remained at my bedside till I recovered con- 
sciousness, but he now wished to join the deputation. 
I thanked him gratefully for his kindness towards me 
and his desperate efforts to save my life. 

Before he left, word reached him that Pugatchov had 
incited some of the men against me, threatening to 
kidnap and lynch me before I was taken away. Petru- 
khin placed five loyal friends of his at my compartment, 
with orders not to surrender me at any cost. 

I prayed to God for Petrukhin, and hearing my prayer 
he said : 

" Now, I, too, believe in God. The appearance of this 
man, Peter, was truly miraculous. In spite of all my 
efforts, you would have been executed but for him." 

" But what are my chances of escaping death now ? " 
I asked. 

" They are still very small," he answered. " Your 
record is against you. You do not deny being a friend 
of Kornilov. Your strict discipHne in the Battalion 
and your fighting the Germans at a time when the whole 
front was fraternizing, are known here. Besides, the 
death penalty has become so customary here that it 
would be very unusual for one to escape it. Only the 
other day a physician and his wife, on their way to 
Kislovodsk to the springs, somehow arrived in Zverevo. 
They were arrested, attached to a party about to be shot, 
and executed without any investigation. Afterwards 
papers from their local Soviet were found in their clothes, 
certifying that they were actually ill, the physician 
suffering from a cancer, and requesting that they should 
be allowed to proceed to Kislovodsk." 



802 YASHKA 

Petrukhin kissed my hand, and left, warning 
me: 

" Wait here till I return. Nobody will harm you in 
my absence." 

He locked the door behind him. I took out the little 
bottle of holy water, given to me by my youngest sister, 
Nadia, and drank it. On my knees before the little 
icon, I prayed long and devoutly to God, Jesus, and the 
Holy Mother. My ears caught a noise outside the car : 
it came from several menacing soldiers who wanted to get 
in and kill me on the spot. I prayed with greater fervour 
than before, pleading for my life in the name of my 
mother, my father and my little sister. My heart was 
heavy with sorrow and despair. 

As I was hugging the little icon, tears streammg from 
my eyes, I suddenly heard a voice, a very tender voice, 
say to me : 

" Your life will be saved." | 

I was alone in the compartment. I realize that it is a 
darmg statement to make. I do not seek to make 
any one believe it. It may be accepted or not. But I 
am satisfied that I did hear the voice of a divine 
messenger. It was soothing, elevating. Suddenly I 
felt happy and calm. I thanked the Almighty for His 
boundless grace and vowed to have a public prayer 
offered at the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour 
at the first opportunity, in commemoration of His 
miraculous message to me. 

Then I fell asleep, and rested calmly till the arrival of 
Petrukhin. His face was wreathed in smiles, he clasped 
my hand joyfully, saying : : 

" Thank God ! Thank God ! You are at least saved 
from the mob. Sablin has ordered you to be sent to, 
Moscow. The necessary papers are being prepared 
now." 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 303 

At this point Peter came in, followed by some members 
of the investigation committee. All were happy. It was 
a wonderful moment. How an act of humanity trans- 
forms men's countenances ! Peter and his comrades 
congratulated me, and I was too overcome to express all 
the gratefulness that I felt toward these men. 

Petrukhin then narrated how he had dealt with the 
infuriated soldiers, who had clamoured for my life. He 
told them that I was being led away to Moscow in the 
hope that I would there deliver up several counter- 
revolutionary Generals, associated with Kornilov. 

" Will she be shot afterwards ? " they inquired. 

" Of course," Petrukhin declared. The lynchers went 
away satisfied. 

' I was curious to know what would be done to me in 
Moscow. Petrukhin replied to my inquiries that among 
the papers relating to my case, which my escort would 
take with them to Moscow, the chief document was the 
protocol. That protocol had been drawn up by himself, 
in the capacity of chairman of the Investigation Com- 
mittee. He described in it how I had lost my way 
while going to Kislovodsk, getting stranded at Zverevo, 
and how I had reported of my own free will to the 
authorities, adding that I had with me a ticket to Kis- 
lovodsk, an invitation from Princess Tatuyeva to come 
to the Caucasus, and a certificate jrom a physician 
certijying to my ill-health. The last was, of course, an 
invention. Petrukhin sent the ticket and the letter 
from Tiflis, adding that he had misplaced the physician's 
certificate and would send it on later. 

" It is unlikely," he said to me, " that you would be 
punished with death in the face of such evidence. I 
should expect your release, sooner or later. But in any 
event, here is a poison pill. I prepared it for you origin- 
ally to take in case the mob got their way, so that you 



S04 YASHKA 

should escape torture at the hands of these savages. I 
hope you will not need to resort to it in Moscow." 

I still carry with me that poison pill wherever I 
go. . . . 

Pctrukhin gave me forty roubles for expenses, as I w^as 
penniless. I thanked him and asked him to write a 
letter to my people, telling them where I was. We 
then took leave of one another. Petrukhin and Peter 
exchanged kisses with me, and I again and again reiter- 
ated how much I owed to them, swearing that in any 
future emergency, whatever happened, I would always 
be ready to do everything within my power for them. 
We all realized that many a change was still in store for 
Mother Russia, before she settled down to a peaceful 
existence. 

Accompanied by my friends and surrounded by four 
armed guards, forming my escort, I was led to an empty 
railway coach, attached to an engine. On this train, 
consisting of cattle-trucks and my coach, I was taken to 
Nikitino. There I was brought before the Commandant, 
with a request to provide accommodation for the party 
on an ordinary train. It was the very Commandant 
who had helped me so generously to get to Zverevo on 
the munition train. Of course, he did not recognize the 
Sister of Mercy in Botchkareva. 

On the platform I had another striking encounter. 
The news that Botchkareva had been seized and was 
being taken to Moscow became known in the station 
and a number of Red Guards and soldiers gathered about 
me, showering upon me insults, curses and threats. 
Among these, in the foremost rank, was the repulsive-J 
looking man who was in charge of the train on which if 
went to Zverevo and who had proposed marrinofo to^ 
nie ! 

The beast did not recognize me now. He sneered im 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 305 

my face, and repeated my name syllable by syllable, 
taking a peculiar joy in distorting it and railing generally 
at my appearance and reputation. 

" The slut ! We have got her, the harlot ! " he raved. 
" Only I can't understand why they didn't shoot her 
there. Why bother with such a slut ! " 

I could not help laughing. I laughed long, without 
restraint. It was so amusing. I was almost tempted to 
disclose to him how I had duped him. He still has no 
idea that Alexandra Smirnova, whose fictitious address 
at Kislovodsk he, in all probability, cherishes yet, was 
Maria Botchkareva ! 

For three days I travelled with my escort from Niki- 
tino to Moscow. I was treated with consideration, but 
always as a prisoner. The guards would get food for me 
and themselves at the stations on the way. Upon our 
arrival at Moscow I was taken in a motor-car to the 
Soldiers' Section of the Soviet, established in what w'as 
formerly the Governor's mansion. My guards delivered 
me to a civilian, with all the documents of the case, and 
left. 

"What, coming from Kornilov ? " the official asked me 
gruffly. 

" No, I was on my way to take the cure at Kislovodsk," 
I replied. 

" Ah, yes, we know those cures ! What about the 
epaulets ? Why did you take them off ? " 

" Because I am a plain peasant woman. I have 
defended my country bravely for three years. I am not 
guilty." 

" Well, we will see about that later," he interrupted 
and ordered me to be led away to prison. 

I was locked up in a small cell, in which there were 
already about twenty prisoners, officers and civilians, all 
arrested by agents who had overheard them talk against 



306 YASHKA 

the Bolshevik regime ! A fine reincarnation of the worst 
methods of Tsarism. 

The cell was in a frightful condition. There was no 
lavatory in it, and the inmates were not permitted to leave 
the room ! The stench was indescribable. The men 
smoked incessantly. The prisoners were not even allowed 
to take the short, daily promenade outside, which -was 
granted by the old regime. 

Apparently in order to make me confess, I was sub- 
jected to a new form of torture, never practised by the 
Tsar's jailers. I was denied food ! For three days I did 
not receive even the niggardly ration given to the other 
prisoners. My companions were all kind to me, but the 
portions that they received were barely enough to sustain 
life in their own bodies. So for three days and three 
nights, I lay on the bunk, in a heap under a cover, on the 
point of suffocation, starved, feverish, and thirsty, as 
no water was allowed me. 

During these days the Commandant of the prison, a 
sailor, would come in several times daily to torment nic 
with his tongue. 

" What are you going to do to me ? " I asked. 

" What ? You will be shot ! " was his answer. 

" Why ? " 

" Ha, ha. Because you are a friend of Kornilov's." 

Those were the hours when I hugged the pill given me 
by Petrukhin, expecting every moment an order to 
face a firing squad. 

Soon one of the arrested officers, who had been caught 
cursing Bolshevism while drunk, was set free. Before 
he went some of his companions intrusted him witli 
messages to their relatives. I thought of the Vasilievs, 
who had so kindly taken me from the hospital to their 
home in the autumn of 1916, and begged the officer to 
visit them and tell them of my plight. He promised 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 807 

to do so and carried out his pledge. I sent them a mes- 
sage that I expected to be executed and asked their help. 

When Daria Maximovna got the message she was 
horrified and immediately set out to get permission to see 
me. But when she called at the Soldiers' Section for a 
pass to see Botchkareva, she was taken for a friend of 
Kornilov's and would have been badly mauled if not for 
the fact that her son Stepan, who had belonged to my 
Company and who had brought about the friendship 
between his mother and myself, was now one of the 
Bolshevik chiefs. Daria Maximovna cried out that 
she was the mother of Stepan Vasiliev, of such and such 
a department, and he was brought to identify his mother. 

This rescued her from a severe punishment. She 
appealed to her son to intervene in my behalf, but he 
refused, saying that he could not come to the aid of an 
avowed friend of Kornilov's. He, however, obtained a 
pass to my cell for his mother. Later he responded 
to her entreaties and did say a few good words for me, 
telling the proper authorities that I was a simple peasant 
woman with no understanding of politics. 

On the fourth day of my imprisonment I received a 
quarter of a pound of bread, some tea and two cubes of 
sugar. The bread was black, consisting partly of straw. 
I could not even touch it and had to satisfy myself with 
three cups of tea. Later in the day a sailor came in, 
and, addressing me as comrade, informicd me that one 
Vasilieva was waiting to see me. I was weak, so weak 
that I could not move a few feet without assistance. 
As soon as I got up and made a step, I sank back on the 
bed in a helpless condition. 

" Are you ill ? " the sailor asked. 

" Yes," I murmured. 

He took me by the arm and led me to a chair in the 
office. I was bathed in perspiration after the little 



308 YASHKA 

walk and so dizzy that I could not sec anything. When 
Daria Maximovna saw me she fell on my neck and 
wept. Turning to the officials, she cried out bitterly : 

" How could you ever have such a woman arrested and 
subjected to torture ? A woman who was so kind to the 
soldiers, and suffered so much for your own brothers ! " 

She then opened a package, took out some bread and 
butter, and handed them to me with these words : 

" Manka, here is a quarter of a pound of bread. All 
we got to-day was three-eighths of a pound. And this is 
a quarter of a pound of butter, our entire ration." 

I was full of gratitude to this dear woman and her 
children, who had sacrificed their own portions for me. 
The bread was good. The difficulty was, according to 
Daria Maximovna, to get enough for them all. Even 
their meagre ration was not always obtainable. 

I then told her my troubles and the punishment I was 
expecting, begging her to write to my mother in case of 
my execution. 

I spent two weeks in that abominable c,cll before I was 
taken before the tribunal. I was marched along the 
Tverskaya, Moscow's chief thoroughfare, and recognized 
on the way by the crowds. The tribunal was quartered in 
the Kremlin. For a couple of hours I waited there, at 
the end of which time I was surprised to see Stepan 
Vasiliev come in and approach me. 

" Marusia, how did you ever get into this ? " he asked 
me, shaking my hand and inviting me to sit down. 

I told him the story of my going to Kislovodsk to take 
the cure. 

" But how did you ever get to Zverevo ? " he inquired. 

" I had a ticket to Kislovodsk. I did not know that 
Zverevo was such a forbidden place. Once they sold me 
a ticket, I thought it all right to follow the regular route," 
I answered excitedlv. 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 309 

" I spent a couple of hours yesterday examining your 
case and the documents relating to it, but I coidd not 
quite understand how you got to Zverevo," Stepan 
said. "Perhaps you really did go to see Kor- 
nilov ? " 

" I do not deny my friendship for Kornilov," I declared, 
glad at heart that Stepan had turned up in such a posi- 
tion of authority. " But you know that I am almost 
illiterate and understand no politics and do not mix with 
any party. I fought in the trenches for Russia and it is 
Mother Russia alone that interests me. All Russians are 
my brothers." 

Stepan answered that he knew of my ignorance of 
political matters. He then went out to report to the 
tribunal, and shortly afterwards I was called in. There 
were six men, all common soldiers, seated at a long table 
covered with a green cloth, in the middle of a large hall, 
richly decorated. I was asked to sit down and tell my 
story, and how I got into Zverevo. The six judges were 
all young men, not one of them over thirty. 

I was about to rise from the chair to tell my story, but 
was very courteously asked to remain seated. I then 
told of my wound in the back, of the operation that I still 
needed for the extraction of a piece of shell, and of my 
consulting a Petrograd physician who had advised me 
•to go to the springs at Kislovodsk. I said that I had 
heard of the fighting between Kornilov and the Bolshe- 
viks, at Novotcherkask, but had no idea what a civil 
war was like and had never thought of a front in such 
a struggle. I, therefore, continued my journey to Niki- 
tino, where the Commandant had sent me on to Zverevo. 
Of course, I failed to mention the fact that the Command- 
ant had sent on to Zverevo not Botchkareva but Smir- 
nova, a Sister of Mercy. I concluded with the statement 
that as soon as I reached Zverevo I realized that I was 



310 YASHKA 

in a dangerous situation, and had surrendered to the 
local authorities. 

I was informed that it would take a week for my case 
to be cleared up and a decision reached. Instead of 
sending me to the Butirka, the prison in which I had 
spent the last two weeks, I was taken to the military 
guard house, opposite the Soldiers' Section. Drunken 
sailors and Red Guards were usually confined there. 
The room in which I was put was narrow and long, the 
windows were large but closely grated. There were 
about ten prisoners in it. 

" Ah, Botchkareva ! Look who's here ! " 

I was met with these words as soon as I crossed the 
threshold. They quickly turned into phrases of abuse 
and ridicule. I was quiet, and sought seclusion and rest 
in a corner, but in vain. The inmates were Bolsheviks 
of the lowest sort, degenerates and former criminals. I 
was the object of their constant ill-treatment, so that 
torturing me day and night became their diversion. If 
I tried to sleep, I soon found some one near me. When 
I ate or drank, the beasts assembled about me, showering 
insults on me and playing dirty tricks. Weeping had 
no effect on them. Night after night I was forced to 
stay awake, sometimes throwing myself upon an intruder 
with my teeth in an effort to drive him away. I implored 
the warder to give me a cell to myself. 

" Let it be a cold, gloomy hole. Give me no food. 
But take me away from these drunken brutes ! " I 
would plead. 

" We will take you away soon — to shoot you ! " the 
warder would joke in reply, amid the uproarious laughter 
of my tormentors. 

The appointed week elapsed and still there was no 
decision in my case. The days — long, cruel, agonizing 
days — passed slowly by. The impossibility of sleeping 



SAVED BY A MIRACLE 311 

was above all so torturing that it drove me to a state 
actually bordering on insanity. Two and a half weeks I 
lived in that inferno, seventeen days without a single full 
night's sleep ! 

Then one morning the warder, who had delighted 
daily in telling me stories of what would be done to me, 
very vivid stories of frightfulness, came in with some 
papers in his hand. 

" Botchkareva ! " he called out to me. " You are 
free." And he opened the door facing me. 

I was so surprised that I thought at first that this was 
another trick to torture me. 

"Free?" I asked. "Why?" I had grown to 
believe the warder's tales of what awaited me, and I 
could not imagine him as the carrier of such tidings. 

"Am I free for good ? " I asked. 

" Yes," was the answer. " You will go with a guard 
to the Soldiers' Section, where you will get the necessary 
papers." 

I bade farewell, with a sigh of relief, to the chamber 
of horrors, and went immediately to get the document 
from the tribunal, which stated that I had been arrested 
but found innocent of the charge and that, as I was ill, I 
was to be allowed complete freedom of movement in 
the country. With this passport in my pocket I was set 
at liberty. 



CHAPTER XX 

I SET OUT ON A MISSION 

THE Vasilievs were the only people I could go to in 
Moscow. They lived on the outskirts of the city. 
I made an attempt to walk to their house, but was too 
weak to proceed more than two blocks. There was a 
cabman near at hand, but he wanted twenty-five roubles 
to take me to- my friends. I tried to bargain, offering 
fifteen, but he would not hear of it. As I had no money, 
I finally hired the cab in the hope that Daria Maximovna 
would pay for it. The alternative was to remain where 
I was. 

Madame Vasilieva received me as if I were her own 
daughter. She was overwhelmed with j oy at my release. 
I was too weak and worn out to appreciate fully my 
miraculous deliverance from torture and death. I was 
given some light food, and Daria Maximovna began to 
prepare a bath for me. I had not changed my under- 
garments for several Aveeks, and my body was blacker 
than it ever had been during my life in the trenches. 
My skin was in a terrible condition from vermin. The 
bath was a greater relief at the moment than my release 
itself. And the long hours of sleep following it were even 
more welcome. I doubt if sleep ever tasted sweeter to 
any one. 

It was impossible to remain long as a guest in Moscow 
in those eariy days of March, 1918. Stepan lived away 

312 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 313 

from his home, as he and his parents held v/idely diver- 
gent views in regard to the political situation. The family 
consisted of Daria Maximovna, her husband and the 
younger son. The daughter, Tonetchka, was married 
and lived elsewhere. The three Vasilievs received daily 
a pound and one-eighth of bread ! The weekly meat 
ration was a pound and a half. I, therefore, promptly 
realized what a burden I was bound to be. But I could 
not make up my mind where to go and what to do. The 
Vasilievs offered to buy me a ticket home, but the 
document I had from the Soldiers' Section was in itself 
a ticket. 

I recalled that some of my wounded girls had been sent 
to Moscow, to be quartered in the Home for Invalids, 
and I thought of looking them up. I took a walk to 
the city. When I approached the block in which the 
Home was situated, I noticed a crowd in the street, largely 
composed of soldiers, holding meetings of indignation. 
When I reached the Home I saw a number of wounded 
soldiers, some of them without legs or arms, dispersed 
about the front grounds. 

On inquiry I learned that the Bolshevist authorities 
had turned the hundreds of crippled inmates of the 
Home into the street. Many of them, including my 
girls, had already disappeared, some no doubt being 
forced to beg, others being cared for by charitable people 
and societies. But still a goodly number remained, 
crying, cursing Lenin and Trotzky, and asking passers- 
by for food and shelter. It was a pathetic sight. The 
cruelty of the order made one's blood boil. It was 
evidently an act of wanton brutality. The excuse that 
the Government needed the building was certainly no 
justification for it. 

There were about two hundred soldiers in the crowd, 
and I stopped to listen to their conversation. All of 



314 YASHKA 

them had been attracted to the place by the complaints 
of the ejected invalids. Their talk came as a revelation 
to me. They were in a mutinous spirit, stirred up against 
the regime of Lenin and Trotzky. For several hours I 
lingered round the various groups, sometimes taking 
part in the discussions. 

" See what you have brought about by your own 
acts. You have shamefully beaten and killed your 
officers. You have forgotten God and destroyed the 
Church. Now, this is the result of your deeds." In 
some such manner I would address the men, and they 
would answer somewhat as follows : 

" We believed that by overthrowing our officers and 
the wealthy class, we should have plenty of bread and 
land. But now the factories are demolished and there 
is no work. We are terrorized by the Red Guards, who 
are recruited mostly from drunkards and criminals. If 
there are any honest soldiers among them, it is because 
hunger and poverty force them to enlist in order to escape 
starvation. If we demand justice and fair play, we are 
shot down by the Red executioners. And all the while 
the Germans are advancing into Russia, and nobody is 
sent to fight them, our real enemies." 

At these words I crossed myself, thanking the Almighty 
for the deep change He had wrought in the minds of the 
people. 

The crowd became so excited that the authorities 
were notified and a detachment of the Red Guard was 
sent to suppress it. It arrived suddenly and warned us 
to disperse by firing a volley into the air. The gathering 
separated and vanished from the street. A group of 
about ten soldiers, including myself, rushed into a 
neighbouring courtyard and continued the conversation 
there behind the gates. 

" See, what you get now ! If you were armed, they 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 315 

would not dare to treat you like that. They made you 
surrender your arms and now oppress you worse than 
the Tsar. Who ever heard of a thousand sick persons 
being thrown out into the street under the old regime ? " 
I asked. 

" Yes, we have been betrayed. It is clear now. The 
Germans are taking away all our bread, occupying our 
land, destroying our country, demanding all our money 
and possessions. We have been betrayed," nodded 
several men. 

" Ah, so you are beginning to see the truth ! " 

" Yes, we are," declared one fellow. " A month ago 
I wouldn't have talked to you. I was then the chairman 
of a local Soviet. But I see what it all means now. We 
are being arrested, searched, robbed, terrorized by the 
Red Guard mercenaries. I would, myself, shoot Lenin 
and Trotzky for this outrageous treatment of the hospital 
patients. A month ago I was a fool, but I see now that 
I was all wrong in my ideas about you and other oppo- 
nents of the Bolsheviks. You are not an enemy of the 
people, but a friend." 

Accompanied by a couple of soldiers I walked away. 
One of them told me he had seen one of my girls begging, 
after she had been turned out of the Home. My heart 
ached at the thought, but I was absolutely without 
means. What could I have done for her ? We reached 
the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and I remembered the 
vow I had made to have a public mass celebrated in 
commemoration of my miraculous escape from death. 

I took leave of my companions and entered the church. 
There were about five or six hundred people there. On 
that very day, I believe, the order was promulgated 
separating the Church from the State. All the devout 
members of the Cathedral came to the Communion 
service that afternoon. 



316 YASHKA 

I went to see the deacon in the vestry and told him of 
the miracle that had been vouchsafed me and the vow I 
had made. I did not fail to mention the fact that I 
was penniless and could not pay for the service. At the 
conclusion of the Communion, j the priest announced : 

" There has just come here a Christian woman who has 
suffered greatly for the country and whose name is known 
throughout the land. A miracle saved her in a desperate 
moment. God listened to her prayers and sent her an 
old friend, whose life she had once saved, on the eve of 
her execution. The execution was postponed. She then 
prayed to God again, and a divine voice informed her 
that her life would be spared. She vowed to offer public 
prayers in this Cathedral in the event of her release. The 
Lord mercifully granted her freedom, and she is now 
here to fulfil the vow." 

The priest then asked the deacon to bring me up to the 
altar. When I was led there, a murmur went through 
the assembly : 

" Heavens ! It's Botchkareva ! " 

Candles were lit and for fifteen minutes prayers 
of praise to the Lord were read, glorifying His, 
name. 

I returned to the Vasilievs by tram. On the car there 
were many soldiers, and again their conversation cheered 
me up. 

" A fine end we have come to ! The Germans are 
moving nearer and nearer, and here they are shooting 
and arresting the people ! " the men said to one another. 
"Why don't they send the Red Guard to resist the 
enemy ? We are being sold to the Germans." 

This was my second encounter with sober-minded 
soldiers in one day. I arrived at Daria Maximovna's in 
high spirits. The awakening of the Russian soldier had 
begun ! 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 317 

I had left my medals and crosses in Petrograd before 
starting out on the fateful errand. Borrowing some 
money from Madame Vasilieva I went to Petrograd to 
fetch them. The railway carriage in which I travelled 
was packed with about a hundred and fifty soldiers. 
But they were no longer the cut-throats, the incensed 
and revengeful ruffians of two months ago. They did 
not threaten. They did not brag. The kindness of their 
true natures had again asserted itself. They even made 
a place for me, inviting me to sit down. 

" Please, Madame Botchkareva," they said, " take 
this seat." 

"Thank you, comrades," I answered. 

" No, don't call us comrades any more. It's a disgrace 
now. The comrades are at present fleeing from the 
front, while the Germans are threatening Moscow," some 
of them remarked. 

I felt among friends. This comradeship was what 
endeared the Russian soldier to my heart. Not the com- 
radeship of the agitators, not the comradeship so loudly 
proclaimed in the Bolshevik manifestoes and proclama- 
tions, but the true comradeship that had made the three 
years in the trenches the happiest of my life. That old 
spirit again filled the air. It was almost too good to 
be true. After the nightmare of revolutions and terror, 
it seemed like a dream. The soldiers were actually 
cursing Bolshevism, denouncing Lenin and Trotzky ! 

"How has it come about that you all talk so 
sensibly ? " I asked. 

" Because the Germans are advancing on Moscow, and 
Lenin and Trotzky don't even raise a finger to stop 
them," came the answer. " A soldier has escaped from 
Kiev and has just telegraphed that the Germans are 
seizing Russians and sending them to Germany to help 
to fight against the Allies. Lenin and Trotzky told us 



318 YASHKA 

that the Allies were our enemies. We now see that tliey 
are our friends." 

Another soldier, who had been home on leave, told of 
an armed Red Guard detachment that had descended on 
his village one fine day and robbed the peasants of all the 
bread they had, the product of their sweat and toil, 
exposing them to starvation. 

" The people are hungry, that's why they join the 
Red Guard," one of the men remarked. " At least then 
they get food and arms with which to plunder. It is 
getting so that no one is safe unless he belongs to the 
Red Guard." 

" But why don't you do something ? " I addressed 
myself to them. " Everywhere I see the people are 
indignant, but they do nothing to cast off the yoke." 

" We have demanded more than once the resignation 
of Lenin and Trotzky. There were large majorities 
against them at several elections. But they are sup- 
ported by the Red Guard and keep themselves in power 
in spite of the will of the people. The peasants arc 
against them almost to a man." 

" The more reason why you should act," I said. 
" Something ought to be done ! " 

" What ? Tell us what ! " several inquired. 

" Even to get together, for instance, and re-establish 
the front ! " I suggested. 

" We would, but we have nobody we can trust to 
lead us. All our good people are fighting among them- 
selves," they argued. " Besides, we should need arms 
and food." 

" You just said that the Allies were our friends. Sup- 
pose we asked them to send us arms and food and help 
us to reorganize the front, would you be willing to fight 
the Germ.ans again ? " I inquired. 

" Yes," answered some, " we would." 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 319 

" No," replied others ; " what if the Allies got into 
Russia and wanted to take advantage of us, like the 
Germans ? " 

" Well, you must elect your own leader to co-operate 
with the Allies only on condition that we fight till we 
defeat the enemy and finish the war," I proposed. 

" But whom could we choose as our leader ? " the men 
persisted. " All our chiefs are divided. Some are 
reputed to be monarchists. Others are said to be 
exploiters of the poor working people. Others are 
declared to be German agents. Where could we find 
a man who did not belong to one or other of these 
parties ? " 

" What if I, for instance, took charge, and became your 
leader ? " I ventured to ask. " Would you follow me ? " 

" Yes, yes ! " they cried. " We could trust you. You 
are a peasant yourself. But what could you do ? " 

" What could I do ? You know that these scoundrels 
are destroying Russia. The Germans are seizing every- 
thing they can lay hold on. I would try to restore the 
front ! " 

" But how ? " they asked. 

At this moment the idea of going to America originated 
in my mand. We had all heard that America was now 
one of the Allies. 

" What if I should go to America to ask there for 
help ? " I ventured. 

My companions all burst out laughing. America is so 
remote and so unreal to the Russian peasant. It did not 
sound like a practical proposition to the soldiers. But 
they raised only one objection. 

" How would you ever get there ? The Bolsheviks 
and Red Guards will never let you out of the country," 
they said. 

" But if I did get there and to the other AlUes," I 



320 YASHKA 

insisted, " and came back with an army and equipment, 
would you join me then, and would you persuade all your 
friends to come with you ? " 

" Yes, we would ! Yes ! We know that you could 
not be bought. You are one of us ! " they shouted. 

" In that event, I will go to America ! " I announced 
resolutely, there and then making up my mind to go. 
The soldiers would not believe me. When we reached 
Petrograd, and I parted from them affectionately, with 
their blessings following me, I did not forget to warn 
them to remember their pledge upon hearing of my 
return from foreign lands with troops. 

I spent only a few hours in Petrograd and did not go 
to see General X. I got my war decorations from the 
woman friend with whom I had left them, and saw only 
a few of my acquaintances. I told all of them of the 
great change in the state of mind of the soldiers, and they 
were delighted. 

" Thank God ! " they exclaimed. " If the soldiers 
are waking up, then Russia will yet be saved." 

After dinner I took a train back to Moscow. As usual, 
soldiers formed the bulk of the passengers. I listened 
to their discussions attentively, although this time I 
took no part in them, as there were a few Bolsheviks 
among the men, and I did not wish to divulge my plans. 
I heard many curse Lenin and Trotzky, and all expressed 
their willingness to go to fight the Germans. One fellow 
asked : 

" How could you fight them, without leaders and 
organization ? " 

" Ah, that's the trouble," answered several at once. 
" We have no leaders. If some appeared and only 
appealed to us, we would make short work of the Bol- 
sheviks and drive the Germans out of Russia." 

I said nothing, but I took good note of their v/ords. 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 321 

The people were groping for light. It strengthened my 
determination to go to the Allied countries in search of 
help for Russia. But it was necessary to evolve some 
plan whereby I could get out of the country. A happy 
thought then occurred to me : I would make my desti- 
nation the home of my valued friend, Mrs. Emmeline 
Pankhurst in London. 

Upon my arrival at Moscow, I announced to the 
Vasilievs my decision to go to London. It was explained 
to me that the only way out of Russia lay through 
Vladivostok, and that I should have to cross America 
before coming to England. That suited me per- 
fectly. 

Before taking the necessary steps for the departure 
I resolved to look up my girls and I visited a hospital to 
which my poor little soldiers were said to have been 
taken. When I arrived at the address I found the 
building closed and was referred to a certain professor, 
whom I finally traced. He told me that those of the 
girls who were not severely wounded had left for their 
homes. Only about thirty invalids remained. Five of 
these were suffering from shell shock and were either 
hysterical or insane. Many of the others were nervous 
wrecks. He had worked hard to get them into the Home 
for Invalids, but hardly had they arrived there when the 
building was requisitioned by the Bolsheviks and the 
inmates turned out into the streets. Vera Michailovna, 
a wealthy woman, had rescued them from the streets and 
sheltered them in her house, but just before my visit 
she had telephoned to him that the Bolsheviks had now 
requisitioned her own house, and she was at a loss to 
know how to dispose of the girls. He concluded with 
the suggestion that both of us should go over to Vera 
Michailovna. 

With a heavy heart I entered the large house in 



322 YASHKA 

which my unfortunate girlt> vvcjc staying, t--v|Mciuii; i-\ «iy 
moment to be ordered to leave. My visit was a complete 
surprise to them. But there was no joy in my heart as I 
crossed the threshold of their room. It was not a happy 
re-union. I had no means with which to help them, no 
power, no influential friends^ 

"The Commander! the Commander!" the women 
exclaimed joyously as soon as they saw me, rushing 
toward me, throwing themselves upon my neck, kissing 
me, hugging me. 

" The Commander has come ! She will save us ! She 
will get us money, bread, a home ! " 

They danced about me in high glee, making me feel 
even more bitter and miserable. 

" My dear girls ! " I said, in order to undeceive them 
at once, " I am myself penniless and hungry. You 
mustn't expect any help of me now." 

" No matter ! You know how to get everything ! " 
they said confidently. " You will take us to fight the 
Bolsheviks as we fought the Germans ! " 

There was a conference between Vera Michailovna, the 
professor and myself on the problem confronting us. 
Vera Michailovna suggested that I should take the girls 
along with me to my village. I rejected the idea at first, 
both because I did not intend to remain at Tutalsk, but 
only to pass through it on the way to Vladivostok and 
because of my lack of funds. Vera Michailovna, how- 
ever, insisted that the wisest thing in the circumstances 
would be to take them away from Moscow. She told 
me that several of the girls had been enticed away and 
maltreated by the Bolshevik soldiers and that the result 
of leaving them in Moscow would be their ruin. She 
offered to provide tickets for them all to my village and 
a thousand roubles in ready money. I finally consented 
to take my invalids with me, hoping to obtain sufficient 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 323 

funds in America to ensure them a life of peace and 
comfort. 

I had resolved to go to America. But I had no funds. 
As my destination was to be London, for the reasons 
mentioned, I thought of seeking assistance from the 
British Consul in Moscow. With the aid of the Vasilievs 
I succeeded in finding the Consul's offices and went to 
see him. There were many people waiting to see the 
Consul, and I was informed that he could not be seen. 
His secretary came out and asked me the purpose of 
my call. I gave him my name, told him of my plight 
and of my decision to go to London, to visit Mrs. Pank- 
hurst, and asked for aid on the ground that I had fought 
and sacrificed much for the cause of Russia and the Allies. 
He reported my presence to the Consul, who received me 
almost immediately. 

The Consul was very courteous. He met me with a 
smile and a cordial handshake, said that he had read in 
the papers of my arrest at Zverevo and inquired what he 
could do for me. I showed him the document from the 
Soviet, but did not reveal to him the fact of my mission 
to Kornilov, adding : 

" Consul, this paper, as you see, allows me freedom 
of movement, I want to take advantage of it and go 
to London, to visit my friend, Mrs. Pankhurst. But I 
am without means. I came to ask you to send me, as a 
soldier, who had fought for the AUied cause, to England. 
If Russia should awake, I shall eagerly resume my service 
on behalf of this cause." 

The Consul explained that the Bolsheviks would not 
allow him to draw on the Consulate's deposits in the 
banks, but, in view of my circumstances, he could supply 
me with some money for expenses. As to my visit to 
London, he said there were almost insuperable difficulties 
in the way, even for his own countrymen, let alone 
Russians. Y* 



324 YASHKA 

But I would not alter my mind, and persisted in begging 
him to send me to his country. He promised to consider 
the matter and give a definite answer that night. He 
then invited me to dine with him at eight o'clock that 
evening. 

When I returned for dinner the Consul informed me 
that he had already telegraphed to the British Consul at 
Vladivostok of my going to London by way of America, 
requesting him to aid me in every way he could. At 
dinner I told the Consul how Mrs. Pankhurst had come to 
know me, but kept to myself the real purpose of my 
journey, as I feared that the Consul would not want to 
antagonize the Bolsheviks by extending his protection 
to me. He gave me five hundred roubles (about 
£52 155. 6d.), and I decided to leave immediately. A 
Siberian express was leaving at 12.40 the same night. 
I had a few hours left to get my girls to the station and 
to bid farewell to the Vasilievs. 

My immediate destination was Tutalsk, on the Great 
Siberian Line. I was uneasy about the treatment our 
party might receive from the soldiers, who occupied 
three-quarters of the space on the train. But here again 
the mental transformation was obvious. The passengers 
discussed affairs sensibly. There were many officers 
on the train, but they were not molested. The soldiers 
were friendly to them and to us. The all-absorbing topic 
was the advance of the Germans. Lenin and Trotzky 
were cursed and denounced as despots worse even than 
the Tsar. There were many refugees from the newly- 
invaded provinces, and their tales further increased the 
mutinous spirit of the men. 

" We were promised bread and land. Now the 
Germans are taking both away." 

" We wanted an end to the war, but Lenin has got us 
into a wo,rse position than before." 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 325 

" We went to the Bolshevist offices and told them of 
our hunger, and they advised us to enlist in the Red 
Guard." 

"It is impossible to find work, all the factories are 
shut down or disorganized." 

These and similar sentiments were expressed on every 
side. Underlying them all was a greater hatred for the 
Germans than ever. There was no doubt in my mind 
that those men were ready to follow any trusted leader, 
with arms and food, against the Germans. 

At Tcheliabinsk the train stopped for a couple of hours. 
There were two regiments stationed there, and there were 
several hundred soldiers on the express. A meeting 
was quickly organized quite near the station, within a 
short distance of the place where I had been thrown off 
the train some three months ago. But how different 
was the mood of the masses now ! There were thousands 
at the meetings. A refugee addressed the crowd. He 
made a stirring, sarcastic speech. 

" Every one of us," he began, " has something at stake 
in Russia. We all want to defend our country. We 
have all made our sacrifices. For three years I fought 
in this war. Then I was set free to return home. But 
I found my home in the hands of the Germans. I could 
not return. I lost my parents, my wife, my sisters ! 
What do I now get for all my sacrifices ? 

" Liberty ! I came to Petrograd. For three days I 
went hungry. I was not alone. There were many other 
soldiers who suffered the same fate. They gave us no 
bread. What have we gained ? 

" Liberty ! " 

" I went to see the chief of the Government in Petro- 
grad. But I was not admitted to him. I was nearly 
beaten to death and thrown out of the building. Why ? 

" Liberty ! 



326 YASHKA 

" The Germans are taking everything they can lay 
hands on, and at the same time the Red Guard is beinc 
strengthened in order to fight — whom, the Germans ? 
— no, the so-called bom'geoisie ! But are they not our 
own brethren, our own blood ? In whose name are we 
urged to slaughter our own people while the Germans 
ravish our land ? 

" In the name of Liberty ! 

" Our country has been disgraced and ruined and still 
we are being called upon to destroy our own educated 
and intelligent classes. 

" Is this liberty ? 

" I hear that in Moscow a thousand invalids were 
thrown out into the street. These invalids are soldiers 
like yourselves and myself, only maimed and crippled 
for life. Why were they thrown out ? 

" For the sake df liberty ! " 

We were all deeply impressed by this speech. Not a 
single voice was raised in protest. Every heart felt 
that the liberty we had received was not the kind of 
liberty we had dreamed of. We wanted peace, happiness, 
brotherhood, not civil war, foreign invasions, strife, 
starvation and disease. 

Another speaker arose and said : 

" He is right. We have been deceived and disgraced. 
We go hungry and no one cares. But how can we get 
out of this shameful situation ? We should have to 
overthrow the present leaders, and re-establish the front. 
The Japanese are already moving into Siberia, and the 
Germans are occupying Russia, all because we are 
divided. We shall be under some foreign yoke if we 
don't join our forces. We quarrelled with our officers, but 
how can we ever hope to do anything without officers ? 
We might make peace with them, but where can we get 
arms to overthrow our present leaders, who have 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 327 

surrounded themselves with bands of Red Guards ? " 

For a moment the vast gathering remained silent. It 
was a pathetic calm. There was a painful sense that 
our much-cherished freedom had turned into an oppres- 
sive bondage. 

Suddenly a couple of men raised their voices, shouting 
protests, denouncing the speaker, even threatening him. 
They were promptly seized and placed under arrest, and 
quiet was restored. 

" Allow me to answer the question ! " I shouted to the 
chairman from the distant place I occupied. 

" Botchkareva ! It's Botchkareva ! " a number of 
voices passed the word to the platform, and immediately 
I was lifted up and carried on to the platform. 

" It's a pleasure to speak to you now," I began, " only 
a few weeks ago you would have torn me to pieces." 

" Yes, it's true ! We killed many ! " several men 
interrupted. ' ' But we were told that the officers wanted 
to enslave us, that's why we killed them. We now see 
that our real enemies are not the officers, but the 
Germans." 

" Before I answer the question put by the previous 
speaker, let me ask you what your attitude is toward the 
Allies ? " I said. 

" America, England, and France we trust. They are 
our friends. They are free countries. But we distrust 
Japan. Japan wants Siberia," came in reply from many 
directions. 

Here a soldier interrupted and asked permission to 
ask a question. It was granted. 

" I can't understand why our Allies do not defend us," 
he said. ' ' Not even one of them has come to our help at 
a time when Germany is devouring our land. The Allied 
envoys are running away from Russia, and those that 
remain do not listen to the voice of the masses, but to 



328 YASHKA 

the representatives of Lenin and Trotzky. At Moscow 
I saw an official of the Soviet escort an Englishman to 
a train. I was hungry. There were hundreds of soldiers 
like me at the station. Our hearts were aching. We 
wanted to give him a message, but he did not even 
turn to us. Instead, he warmly shook hands with the 
Soviet official." 

" What if we should appeal to the Allies, to America, 
England, and France, to furnish us with bread, arms and 
money for the reconstruction of the front ? " I resumed. 

" How can we trust them ? " I was interrupted again. 
" They will come here and work in league with Lenin 
and his band of bloodsuckers." 

" Why not join forces and elect a Constituent 
Assembly, and let your own leaders co-operate with the 
Allies ? " I suggested. 

" But whom could we choose ? " 

"That we would decide later. There are plenty of 
good men still left in Russia," I answered. " But what 
if I, for instance, should want to do something, would 
you trust me ? " 

"Yes, yes ! We know you ! You are of the people ! ' ' 
hundreds of voices cried out. 

" Well, let me tell you then, I am going to America and 
England. If I should succeed and come back with an 
Allied force, would you come to aid me in saving 
Russia ? " 

" Yes, we will ! Yes, yes ! " the crowd roared. 

With this the meeting ended. The train was now 
about to start and we hurried towards it, singing on the 
way. I felt happy and hopeful. Several thousand 
soldiers were not to be disregarded. They were almost 
unanimous in their new view of the country's condition. 
Taken in conbination with what I had observed in 
Moscow and on the Avay to Petrograd, this meeting 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 329 

further reinforced my hopes for Russia's salvation. It 
was obviously a phenomenon of widespread occurrence, 
this awakening of the soldiers. 

My mother had received Petrukhin's letter, and for six 
weeks had mourned me as dead. She was overwhelmed 
with joy upon my return, but became a little uneasy as she 
perceived a long line of girls, many of them almost 
barefoot, file after me into the little hut. She took me 
aside and asked what it meant, confiding to me that she 
had only fifty roubles left of the money I had brought 
home on my previous visit. I begged her to be patient 
and assured her that I would arrange matters promptly. 
I immediately went to the owner of the hut and several 
others of the leading peasants of the community, got 
them together, explained to them the situation, informed 
them that I had only one thousand roubles to spend 
toward the support of the girls, and asked if they would 
undertake to feed and house them on credit till my return 
from America. 

" I swear that I will pay every kopeck due to you. I 
will get enough money to pay not only the debts, but to 
ensure for them sustenance and shelter to the end of their 
lives. Now I want you to keep a record of all your 
expenses. Will you trust me ? " 

" Yes," replied the peasants. " We know that you 
have done a great deal for Russia, and we have confidence 
in you." 

This was the arrangement under which the thirty 
invalids of my Battalion of Death were left by me in the 
village of Tutalsk in March, 1918. The thousand roubles 
I gave to my mother with instructions to buy shoes for 
the most destitute of the girls. Of the five hundred 
roubles given to me by the Consul, I gave three hundred 
to my mother. I decided to take my youngest sister, 
Nadia, with me to America. Accompanied to the 



330 YASHKA 

station by my parents, the thirty girls, and half the 
community, I started eastward, for Irkutsk and Vladi- 
vostok, dressed once more as a woman. 

At the station in Irkutsk I noticed a young girl, with 
two tiny children in her arms. Somehow her face looked 
familiar to me, but I could not recall who she was. She 
was evidently in trouble, poor and ragged. For a while 
she stared at me. Then she ran up and cried out 
breathlessly : 

"Mania'!" 

She was the younger daughter of the woman Kitova, 
whose husband had killed the dog-catcher and who had 
accompanied him into exile, at the same time that I had 
gone into exile wi,th Yasha. Then she was only a little 
girl, not more than eleven or twelve years old. Now she 
was the mother of two children. 

For three days, she told me, her mother and herself 
had been living on the floor of the station. They had 
only seventy kopecks left in their possession. With this 
money the mother had gone to the town to find a lodging ! 
More than three months they had been travelling from 
Yakutsk, where this girl had married a political. All 
the money in my purse was two hundred roubles. I 
gave forty and then another twenty to the poor girl. 

While I was nursing one of the two babies, an official 
approached me. 

" Are you Botchkareva ? " he asked. 

" Yes," I answered. 

He wanted to detain me, but some of the soldiii > \> iiv 
had travelled on the same train with me hurried to my 
defence. There was a hot argument. I drew out my 
pass from the Soviet and claimed the freedom to go 
wherever I pleased. I was finally left in peace. 

I waited for the return of old Kitova to the last minute, 
desirous to see her and especially to learn about Yasha 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 331 

and other friends in North Siberia. Her daughter could 
only tell me that Yasha had married a Yakut woman, 
after the local fashion, and was still in Amga when last 
she heard. . . . 

We resumed the journey eastward. At Khabarovsk, 
about 460 miles from Vladivostok, we changed trains 
and had to accommodate ourselves for the night at the 
station in the women's waiting-room. When I was about 
to settle down for the night, the door opened and a voice 
behind me called out sharply : 

" Commander Botchkareva ? " 

" Yes," I replied, alarmed at this form of address. 

" Are you going to England ? " was the next question. 

"No." 

" Where, then, are you going ? " 

" To Vladivostok, to stay with some relatives." 

The official then demanded my baggage in order that 
he might search it. He found a letter from the Moscow 
Consul to his Vladivostok colleague. I explained that 
the Consul had helped me in Moscow and now asked the 
English representative at Vladivostok to help me also. 
The official told me in a whisper that he was only fulfil- 
ling orders, but did not sympathize any longer with 
Lenin's regime. He had left four soldiers outside the 
room in order to facihtate matters for me. His eyes 
then fell on a photograph of me in the trunk. It showed 
me in full uniform and was the last copy in my possession. 
He asked for it and my autograph, and to win his good 
will I gave it to him without demur. He then advised 
me to conceal the letter from the Consul, and I sent it by 
Nadia to Ivanov, one of my fefiow-travellers outside. 
One of these was a member of a provincial Soviet, an 
ex-Bolshevik. He and other soldiers aided me while I 
was on the train to evade the Red Guards, who used to 
search it daily, at various stations, for officers going to 



332 YASHKA 

join General Senienov. More than once, in an emergency, 
1 was concealed under their overcoats. When the Guard 
asked : 

" Who's there ? " 

" A sick comrade," was the answer, and they passed 
on. 

The official had received orders to take me to the town 
and detain me. Escorted by the four Guards, Nadia 
and I were taken to the police station. I was locked up, 
while the official went to call a meeting of the local 
Soviet. Nadia remained outside the cell, and I sud- 
denly heard her cry for help. Rushing to the door, I 
saw through the keyhole that the Red Guards were 
annoying her. I banged at the door, shouting to the 
rascals to leave her alone, appealing to their sense of 
shame, but they only jeered and continued to torment 
her. My helplessness behind the locked door infuriated 
me. I dare not think of what the ruffians would have 
done to Nadia had not my friend Ivanov come in M'ith 
two other soldiers to plead for me. 

They found Nadia crying and me banging at the door 
in a white fury. I told them of the behaviour of the 
four Red Guards toward my sister, and a sharp quarrel 
ensued. Presently the chairman of the local Soviet 
and the majority of its members arrived. My case was 
taken up. It appeared that orders had been received 
from Moscow or Irkutsk to detain me. As the search 
had not led to the discovery of any incriminating evidence 
against me, my claim that I was going to Vladivostok 
could not be refuted. 

Ivanov and the two soldiers put up a valiant defence, 
arguing that I was a sick woman, that they had come to 
know me during our companionship on the train as a real 
friend of the people, and that it would be a disgrace to 
arrest me and send me back with no evidence against me. 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 338 

But for these three defenders, I should in all probability 
have been dispatched under escort to Moscow or Tutalsk. 
With their aid, I was able to make such a favourable 
impression on the Khabarovsk Soviet that I was per- 
mitted to proceed to Vladivostok, where I arrived about 
the middle of April, 1918, with five roubles and seventy 
kopecks in my purse. 

The Soviet in Vladivostok kept a close watch over all 
the people who were arriving and departing. As soon 
as Nadia and I reached a lodging house, our documents 
were demanded in order that they might be sent to the 
Soviet for inspection. Nadia had a regular passport, 
while I made use of the paper from the Moscow Soldiers' 
Section. It is usual for such documents to be returned 
to their owners with the stamp of the local Soviet on the 
back. But ours were slow in arriving — not a good 
omen. 

I went to the English Consul and was received in his 
office by an elderly Russian Colonel, who served there in 
the capacity of secretary and interpreter. He recognized 
me at once, as a telegram from Moscow announcing my 
coming had preceded me. The Consul was very kind 
and cordial when I was shown into his study, but 
declared that his position was such that he could not 
take it upon himself to obtain a passport for me from 
the Soviet, as he was suspected of counter-revolutionary 
activities. 

Without revealing to the Consul the true purpose of 
my journey, I explained to him that my journey to 
London was undertaken not merely as a social visit to 
Mrs. Pankhurst, but as an escape from the terror of 
Bolshevism, which made life perilous for me anywhere in 
Russia. He advised me to go to the local Soviet, tell 
them of my desire to go to Mrs. Pankhurst, of whom the 
Bolsheviks had certainly heard, and ask for passports. 



334 YASHKA 

The Consul thought that the Soviet could not find any- 
thing suspicious about my journey to his country, and 
would allow me to proceed unmolested. I replied with 
an account of some of the things I had endured at the 
hands of Lenin's government and said that I was certain 
that my formal applicp,tion for a passport would be the 
end of my adventure. He then telephoned to the Ameri- 
can Consul at Vladivostok, informed him of my arrival 
and my plight, and enlisted his interest. 

I returned to the hotel, with three hundred roubles 
in my purse, given me by the Consul. The place was 
dirty and without conveniences, but it was almost 
impossible to obtain decent accommodation in the city. 
However, the proprietor of the inn was very helpful and 
later saved me from trouble. 

The following day the Consul told me that all efforts to 
win the goodwill of the Soviet toward me had not only 
failed but had been met with threats. The Bolsheviks 
might even send me back, I learned. I renewed my 
entreaties to the Consul to send me away, even without 
the Soviet's passport. He would not promise to do so, 
but under the pressure of my appeals finally showed an 
inclination to consider the matter. 

Upon leaving the Consulate I was stopped in the street 
by a soldier. 

" Botchkareva ? " he asked. 

" Yes," I answered. 

" Why did you come here to tramp the streets ? " was 
the next question. 

" I came to visit my relatives, but found that they had 
moved, so I am going back soon." 

He let me go my way. As soon as I arrived at tlie 
inn, the proprietor took me aside to tell me that repre- 
sentatives of the Soviet had called in my absence, and 
inquired as to my doings and my plans. He had informed 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 335 

them that I had come to visit some relatives, but was 
unable to find where they were living. They had left 
with the threat that they would return to arrest me. 
I did not intend to wait for their arrival and allow 
myself to be detained and sent back. I telephoned to 
the Consul and told him of the latest development. 
Fortunately he had some good news for me. An 
American transport was to touch at Vladivostok two 
days later ! 

Nadia and I hurried to the Consulate. The Consul 
declared that the Bolsheviks had threatened him if he 
should be found aiding me to get away. Meanwhile he 
proceeded to have all the necessary foreign passports 
prepared for us, and we were photographed for that 
purpose. The difficulty of leaving Vladivostok without 
a pass from the Soviet still confronted us. The harbour 
was under strict supervision, and the boats that were 
used to ferry passengers from the shore to the steamships 
were manned and inspected by Bolsheviks. 

For nearly two days I remained in my room, in con- 
stant dread of the appearance of Red Guards to arrest 
me. They did not come, however, apparently convinced 
that I could not escape them anyway. They had ample 
reason afterwards to change their minds about this. I 
then went to the Consul again. The American transport 
Sheridan was due that night, he Sjaid, but he was not sure 
yet if the Captain would be willing to take me on board. 

Meanwhile we sought a means to elude the inspectors 
at the port. A large travelling basket was tried, and I 
managed to pack myself into it, but the Consul decided 
that I might be suffocated in case the basket should be 
left at the pier for a couple of hours. So I got out of 
the basket. 

The transport arrived in the evening, and the Captain 
expressed his willingness to carry me across the Pacific. 



386 YASHKA 

At the request of the Consul I remained in his house, 
while my sister, accompanied by an officer, went to the 
inn to get my things, and with them left for the vessel. 
Two' hours later I called up the inn to find out whether 
Nadia had been there with the officer. The proprietor 
informed me that about fifty Red Guards had just 
been there looking for me, and had been disagreeably 
surprised to learn that I had departed already. 

" Where did she go ? " they asked the proprietor. 

" To the railway station, to take a train," he 
lied. 

" What train ? " they shouted indignantly. " There 
are no trains leaving to-night." With that they went 
away, presumably to search for me. 

I communicated to the Consul what I had learned, 
and he hid me in a closet. Shortly afterwards several 
Red Guards arrived, asking for Botchkareva. The 
Consul denied knowledge of my whereabouts, declared 
that I had come to him only once, as a result of which 
he had applied to the Soviet for a passport for me, but 
since he was refused he washed his hands of my case. 
The Red Guards said that I had been observed entering 
the Consulate, but had not been seen to leave it. They 
glanced about for me and then left, after the Consul's 
denial of my visit. 

The old Colonel returned, after taking Nadia aboard 
the transport, with the news that I should have company 
on the way, as eight Russian officers were to be passengers 
on the same vessel. Hundreds of Russian officers had 
arrived in Vladivostok in the belief that they could join 
the British army there and be transported to France. 
Unfortunately the Allies would not accept their services 
and they found themselves in difficult cii'cumstances, 
without means to return to European Russia and with 
no desire to do so, as long as Bolshevism was still rampant 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 337 

there. Some of them succeeded by various means in 
making their way to the United States or Canada. 

The Colonel asked me if I wanted to meet my fellow- 
travellers. I answered in the affirmative, and as they 
were at the moment at the Consulate, he took me into 
the room, in which they were waiting. Scarcely had I 
crossed the threshold, when, glancing at the small group 
of officers, my eyes suddenly fell on Leonid Grigorievitch 
Filippov, my former battle adjutant, who had carried 
me unconscious under German fire to safety in that 
unhappy advance of the Battalion. 

" What are you doing here ? " both of us asked eacli 
other simultaneously, astonished at this unexpected 
meeting. 

I had always felt that I owed my life to Lieutenant 
Filippov after I had been stunned by a shell and injured 
while running from the enemy at the end of the fruitless 
offensive launched by the Battalion. He had taken 
charge of the Battalion after I had been sent to the 
Petrograd hospital, and later left for Odessa to train as an 
aviator. 

From a short private conversation I learned that 
Lieutenant Filippov was in the same plight as all the 
other officers who had come to Vladivostok under the 
impression that they would be accepted by the Allies. 
I decided to ask the Consul to allow him to assume his 
former post of adjutant to me and let him become a 
member of my party. The Consul graciously consented, 
and I was happy at the thought of journeying to foreign 
lands in the company of an educated friend, with a 
knowledge of languages, peoples and geography, who was 
also devoted to Russia with all his heart. 

After another conference with the Consul, it was 
decided that I should be dressed as an Englishwoman 
and as such make an effort to get to the American trans- 



338 YASHKA ; 

port. The necessary clothes were obtained, and in fifteen 
minutes I appeared no longer as a soldier, but as a veiled 
foreign lady who did not understand a word of Russian. 
Accompanied by the Colonel, I left for the harbour, 
after having expressed my deepest thanks to the Consul 
for his great sacrifices in my behalf. 

I was supposed to play a speechless role and leave 
everything to my escort. This I did, although more 
than once my heart jumped when a guard seemed to 
scrutinize me closely, and now and then I had to suppress 
an impulse to laugh when the Colonel, in reply to ques- 
tions, said that I was an Englishwoman returning home. 
It was dark when I was ferried to the transport, and 
everything went off without mishap. But that was not 
the end of the adventure. 

The transport had to remain for another day in the 
harbour, and it was expected that the Soviet would search 
it for me. To baffle all attempts to discover me I was 
placed in a cabin, the entrance and all approaches to 
which were guarded. Nobody was allowed to come near 
the room, all inquirers being told that an important Ger' 
man general was detained there on his way to an Ameri- 
can prison camp. Even Lieutenant Filippov did not know 
of the trick and was greatly worried over my non-arrival 
as the hour for the departure of the ship drew near. If 
any Bolshevik emissary was sent on board the vessel to ' 
look for me, he was stopped in front of a certain cabin 
by American soldiers and informed that no one would be 
permitted to get within so many feet of the imprisoned 
enemy general. 

When the anchors of the Sheridan were raised and the 
ship began to move, I came out of the cabin, to the live- 
liest merriment of everybody who had expected to sec i 
stern Teuton general emerge from the door. 

I was free ! 



1'! 



I SET OUT ON A MISSION 339 

It was April 18, 1918, when I left Russian soil for 
the first time in my life. Under the American flag, on an 
American transport, I was heading for that wonderful 
land — America — carrying in my breast the message of 
the Russian peasant-soldier to the Allies : 

" Help Russia to release herself from the German yoke 
and become free — in return for the five million lives 
that she has sacrificed for your safety, the security of 
your liberties, the preservation of your own lands and 
lives ! " 



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